Saturday, 2 February 2019

Breaking: Iranian-Backed Militia Threatens US Force in Iraq




Members of the Hashd al-Shaabi, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq, warned US troops against “provocations” near Mosul in a video posted over the weekend. US troops on patrol in eastern Mosul were confronted by gunmen who monitored their movements and put an armored jeep across their path on a road.

Iran’s Press TV boasted on Saturday that “Hashd al-Shaabi stop US military patrol in Iraq’s Mosul.” The Hashd are also called the Popular Mobilization Units and are a group of militias that have grown in the last several years in response to the ISIS attack on Iraq in 2014. Some of the militias, such as Badr, have deep roots in Iraq and leaders who fought alongside the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war. Others, such as Qais Khazali’s Asaib Ahl al-Haq, were once considered terrorist gangs that targeted US troops and Sunnis in Iraq after the US invasion of 2003. Khazali was once held at Camp Cropper and went to Lebanon in December 2017 where he threatened Israel. The PMU in Iraq increasingly play a similar role to Hezbollah in Lebanon, with armed militias and members of parliament. The Fatah Alliance, led by Badr’s Hadi al-Amiri, came in second in the May 2018 Iraq elections.

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US forces in Iraq, deployed as part of the Coalition’s anti-ISIS war, have not worked with the PMU during the war on ISIS. This has prevented a complex challenge because ostensibly the US is allied with the PMU in the anti-ISIS war, even as the US administration of Donald Trump has ended the Iran deal and sought to confront and sanction Tehran.

In the last two years the militias have increasingly threatened the US. In January 2018 Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba often called for the US to leave Iraq and threatened the US. In June 2018 Kata’ib Hezbollah also threatened to attack US forces after an airstrike hit their fighters in Syria. They had also said they were ready to fight the US in September 2017. Khazali said the US should leave Iraq last week in a interview.

These tensions have now boiled over in Mosul. US soldiers on patrol near the once-swank Nineveh International Hotel, found a street blocked by PMU vehicles. PMU members holding their rifles pointed skyward looked at the Americans. A helicopter circled in the background, landing at an Iraqi base nearby. The Americans share the base with the Iraqis, according to locals. It was only their first or second patrol in this particular area, sources told the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis (MECRA), which published reports of the confrontation. Kurdistan24 reported that the US forces had air support during their patrol.


After the confrontation the PMU produced a video threatening the US. Rezvan Al-Anzi, a PMU commander said on Saturday that the US was making “deliberate provocations.” The PMU claim the US is creating insecurity in the area. Locals in Mosul also are divided on what is happening. Most Mosul residents are Sunnis and they fear the role of the Shi’ite militias. But they also have been recovering from years of war. The city is hosting cultural events and rebuilding. They don’t want to be in the middle of an Iran-US struggle played out with Iranian proxies. They don’t want tensions some wrote online. In other parts of Iraq the PMU are also increasing rhetoric and confrontations with the US. In Anbar in mid-January a unit of the PMU also blocked an American patrol. Some members of the PMU have indicated that they expect to confront the Americans one day. An inquiry to the US Central Command about the incident was not answered as of press time. 



The US is withdrawing from Syria but Trump told troops at Al-Asad base in Iraq in December 2018 that the US would stay in Iraq and continue to monitor ISIS threats. ISIS has been carrying out attacks in Iraq. But the PMU say they want to fight ISIS without US help. The Iraqi government is more circumspect. The Prime Minister Adel Abudl Mahdi was non-plussed that Trump came to Iraq and met US forces but didn’t come to Baghdad. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had scolded then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October 2017, claiming the PMU were the hope for the future of Iraq. But Iraq wants support from the US for reconstruction and also continued US training of key security forces, such as pilots or Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service. The US is therefore in a difficult relationship with Baghdad and the PMU, amid tensions with Iran. The message in Mosul to US forces was that this part of Iraq belongs not only to Iraqis, but to the PMU, and US forces should be aware. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the confrontation is part of pro-Iranian groups and their attempt to test the US. 

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