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Iranian killed in Iraq subject of 2009 controversy

An Iranian killed in Iraq was incorrectly labelled a Lebanese Hezbollah commander by activists during the 2009 election protests, and some news reports of his death still contain the error.

An Iranian volunteer who was killed in Iraq fighting alongside Iraqi forces against the Islamic State (IS) had been entangled in controversy over the post-2009 election protests and the subsequent crackdown when he was incorrectly labeled by opposition activists as a Lebanese Hezbollah commander.

Mehdi Noroozi, a Basij Forces member from Iran’s Kermanshah region who, according to the Iranian media, later “held numerous positions defending the Islamic system,” was killed Jan. 10 in Samarra, a city north of Baghdad that has been the scene of heavy fighting between IS and Iraqi forces backed by militias with close ties to Tehran.

Iranian news agencies reported that Noroozi was “martyred defending the Imam Askari Shrine and confronting the takfiri terrorists of [IS].” While a majority-Sunni town, Samarra is home to the important Shiite shrine. When al-Qaeda terrorists blew up the dome of the mosque in 2006, it unleashed a wave of sectarian killings.

When pictures of Noroozi surfaced online, some recognized him from his role in the post-2009 election unrest. There are a number of photos of Noroozi on the streets during the violent Ashoura protests and also attacking the campaign offices of Reformist presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi. In the pictures, Noroozi can be seen along with other plainclothes officers with a walkie-talkie in his hand, and it is clear he is playing a leading role.

At the time, Noroozi was identified by foreign Persian-language analysts as a Lebanese Hezbollah commander by the name of “Hossein Ashmar.” A number of blogs active during that era still identify Noroozi this way and after his death, some tweeted screenshots of news sites referring to Noroozi as Ashmar.

Conservative Iranian media outlets took the opportunity to once again criticize and condemn the 2009 Green Movement.

Raja News reported that the accusation that Hezbollah had participated in the 2009 crackdown was a claim made “time and time again on satellite channels and social media.” The article featured a screenshot of a BBC Persian article headlined, “Hezbollah and Tehran’s plainclothesmen.” The article read that it was these types of claims that led some protesters to chant “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran.”

The Raja piece also included a number of pictures of Noroozi during the 2009 protests and reported that he died for “beliefs … so important for him that he risked his life and entered the den of the Qaytariah sedition [Mousavi campaign office] in the heart of the Iranian [Green Movement] and Iraq and Samarra to confront the Iraqi [IS].”

Arsh News reported that supporters of both Mousavi and IS were celebrating Noroozi’s death and shared screenshots of social media posts condemning Noroozi, though it is not clear whether the screenshots are from Green Movement supporters. The website also shared screenshots of other pages claiming that Noroozi was Hossein Ashmar.

Funeral services were held for Noroozi at Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, Iraq and in Tehran. He was buried in Kermanshah in the Ferdowsi cemetery in a location designated for martyrs.

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