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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Conflict Breaks Out Between the Iraqi Government and Pro-Iranian Militias

Filed under: Iran, Iranian Terrorism, Iraq

Conflict Breaks Out Between the Iraqi Government and Pro-Iranian Militias
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi (Mehr News, Iran)
  • The Iraqi Prime Minister, for the first time, raided pro-Iranian militia headquarters responsible for a series of terrorist attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.
  • There is growing concern over a new political crisis in Iraq and bloody clashes between the pro-Iranian militias and the Iraqi army.
Two 107mm rockets ready to be fired
Two 107mm rockets ready to be fired were captured by Iraqi security forces in southwest Bagdad on June 25, 2020. (Baghdad Governorate)1

New Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered the first confrontation with one of the pro-Iranian Iraqi militia responsible for rocket attacks against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. troops stationed at Iraqi military bases.

Kadhimi promised to deal with the problem when he met with U.S. representatives in the first round of strategic dialogue between the two countries a month ago.

Kadhimi, who is the commander of Iraq’s armed forces, ordered an Iraqi counterterrorism unit on June 25, 2020, to raid a “Hizbullah Brigades” compound in southern Baghdad and arrested 14 militia operatives.

The compound contained a workshop for manufacturing Katyusha rockets. They also arrested an Iranian expert who instructed the militia members on how to make the rockets. In the workshop, there were rockets ready for operation.

Flag of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq
Flag of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq

The Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (The New Arab) newspaper reported on June 27, 2020, that among the detainees was also a man known as “Khaider Samatyah” who is wanted on suspicion of assaults and the murder of dozens of Iraqi protesters during former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s term.

The operation took place based on precise intelligence; a few days earlier, Iraqi intelligence arrested three militia activists who admitted during interrogation that they had fired rockets at U.S. targets in Iraq.

The “Hizbullah Brigades” militia is part of the umbrella organization of militias known as “Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi” (Popular Mobilization Forces), an organization close to Iran that follows Iranian orders.

Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi, an umbrella organization with 67 different militias, officially belongs to the Iraqi army, but most of its militias are loyal to Iran.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was deputy chief of Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi, was killed along with Iranian General Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad airport in a U.S. attack on January 3, 2020.

Popular Mobilization Forces react to purported Israeli attacks on their bases
Popular Mobilization Forces react to purported Israeli attacks on their bases. The Israeli flag was photo-shopped into the 2017 Yemeni news picture (Tehran Times, 2019)2
Popular Mobilization Forces
The original Popular Mobilization Forces picture as it appeared in a Yemen newspaper in 2017.3

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on the Iraqi government and Al-Hashd Al-Sha’bi militia for restraint and for resolving their internal disputes responsibly. At the same time, contact was established between Al Hashd Al-Sha’bi and the Iraqi to release detainees.

The attacks by pro-Iranian militants in Iraq on foreign forces stationed in the country, led by the United States, intensified after the assassination of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and after the Iraqi government decided to remove all foreign forces from Iraq.

Iraqi law prohibits local militias from receiving directives from abroad. Since their establishment, pro-Iranian militias in Iraq have committed war crimes, violated Iraqi law, and become a threat to the security of the state and its citizens.

The “Hizbullah Brigades” issued a statement accusing Mustafa al-Kadhimi of cooperating with the United States and that while he served as Iraqi intelligence chief, he helped the United States assassinate Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The brigades promised that they were lying in wait for him for his deeds.

Even before he was appointed prime minister, Kadhimi denied these accusations, and he met with Lebanese Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah in order to receive a “Kosher certification,” which would allow him to be appointed Iraq’s new prime minister.

There is no doubt that the successful operation ordered by Mustafa al-Kadhimi thwarted a series of planned attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and on the U.S. military presence in Iraq, located in the “Green Zone.”

Kadhimi succeeded in his first practical test to restore order to the country; however, the power of the pro-Iranian militias is considerable. Immediately after the raid on the “Hizbullah Brigades” headquarters, dozens of armed militias drove 20 vehicles and laid siege against one of the Iraqi counterterrorism buildings in Baghdad.

The events in Baghdad indicate that pro-Iranian militias are flouting the law.

Kadhimi is facing a very serious problem despite the sympathetic reactions on social media to the counterterrorism raid on the “Hizbullah Brigades” headquarters. The pro-Iranian militia control Iraqi streets more than the federal government. This first real test is likely to end in a political crisis and bloody clashes.

Kadhimi has succeeded as prime minister with both American and Iranian consent. So far, he has successfully navigated the political minefields, but these latest moves placed Kadhimi as part of the pro-American camp in Iraq in Iran’s eyes. The pro-Iranian forces are mobilizing against Kadhimi, and the estimates in Iraq are that the battle between the current Iraqi government and the pro-Iranian militias is just beginning.

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