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Pharma Firms Face Terrorism Suit

Over 100 Americans affected by the Iraqi terrorist organization Jaysh al-Mahdi have filed a lawsuit against several pharma companies, alleging that corrupt transactions to the “Mahdi Army” were used to fund terrorist attacks. The lawsuit was born of an investigation undertaken by a trio of Washington law firms and relies on 12 confidential witnesses who apparently have direct and indirect knowledge of the bribery scheme. 

According to the lawsuit, Jaysh al-Mahdi controlled the Iraq ministry in charge of importing medical goods. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants “obtained lucrative contracts from that ministry by making corrupt payments to the terrorists who ran it” and that “those payments aided and abetted terrorism in Iraq by directly financing an Iran-backed, Hezbollah-trained militia that killed or injured thousands of Americans.” The lawsuit seeks damages under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act.

Companies named in the lawsuit include AstraZeneca, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Roche. GE has since said they are investigating the allegations, while Pfizer has denied any wrongdoing (2). The situation is clearly more than a little murky. In late 2004, after the collapse of Saddam Hussain’s government, the Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH) fell under the control of Jaysh al-Mahdi – a Shiite terrorist group – with public hospitals converted into terrorist bases. “Armed terrorists openly patrolled the halls of MOH headquarters in downtown Baghdad, which became too dangerous for Americans to enter,” said the plaintiffs. “After late 2004, companies selling medical goods to MOH were dealing with a counterparty that was not a genuine medical institution; it was a de facto terrorist group.”

Jaysh al-Mahdi implemented a requirement that medical-goods suppliers seeking access to Iraq’s lucrative healthcare market pay Jaysh al-Mahdi agents a “Khums” (a tax). The plaintiffs also allege that companies seeking to win sales contracts from the MOH after late 2004 had to pay that tax by providing Jaysh al-Mahdi agents with bribes worth at least one-fifth of the contract’s value. It is claimed that the defendants provided MOH officials with additional batches of drugs and equipment, which could be sold on the black market.

The plaintiffs believe that the resources flowed directly into Jaysh al-Mahdi’s coffers and helped the militia buy weapons, training, and logistical support for its terrorist attacks.

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  1. Terrorism Case, Case 1:17-cv-02136, Document 1, 2017. Available at: Last accessed November 13, 2017.
  2. The New York Times, “Lawsuit Claims Three U.S. Companies Funded Terror in Iraq” (2017). Available at: Last accessed November 16, 2017.
About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.


From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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