ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An Iraqi militia claimed on Friday that they had “prevented” US troops from conducting a field patrol in a northern suburb of Mosul, but a security source and witnesses at the scene said US troops completed their patrol despite the armed group's actions.
The incident – or lack thereof, depending on the source – came one day after the Iraqi Ministry of Defense rejected recent Iraqi media reports claiming that the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State had increased its number of troops in the country.
The Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), are multiple militias that were incorporated into the national security apparatus in 2014 to join Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the fight against the Islamic State. Many of the militias receive direct support from Iran.
In a statement, the militia said on Friday that the US patrol in Mosul was “a deliberate provocation, which required us to intervene and object to their entry by blocking the road and warning them directly.”
No statement has yet been issued by the US military or the US-led coalition that addresses the purported confrontation or any part of the militia's claims.
The events in question took place in the Ghabat (Forest) suburb in the predominantly Sunni city of Mosul, according to the PMF statement.
The militia was reportedly part of the Babylon Brigades, concentrated in Ghabat area. Most of the fighters are members of the Iraqi Christian community, though Christian political leaders involved in the brigade's creation have complained that it plays a subservient role in the PMF when compared to the Shia militias that dominate it.
The local armed group released photos showing its fighters blocking one side of a road with a military vehicle as US soldiers approach. The Americans are seen continuing toward the PMF soldiers and vehicle, walking past them, and, somewhat casually, advancing further down the road. None of the images suggest a tense confrontation, nor are weapons seen raised.
“Panic and extreme fear” was observed among US soldiers who were moving in the area, the PMF’s deputy commander of Nineveh Operations, Radwan al-Anzi, claimed in the statement.
Eyewitnesses and security sources in the area told Kurdistan 24 on Saturday that the US forces, under cover of air support, passed the PMF on the street and simply continued to walk, as also seen in a video released by the PMF.
The US military, as the leading member of the global coalition against the Islamic State, has provided aerial support to Iraqi forces in multiple cities within in Iraq, including Mosul.
The embattled city was liberated from the Islamic State in mid-2017 with the Shia militias often retaining a sizeable presence within the city since.
The PMF, supported by the federal government of Iraq, played a key role alongside federal Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga in liberating various areas from the jihadist group that took over large swaths of territory across Iraq in 2014.
In recent days, senior commanders from multiple PMF militias have strengthened their continuing demands that US forces leave Iraq entirely and have threatened to target them if they should remain.
This, however, is not the official stance of Baghdad toward the US troops, who continue to train Iraqi forces.
Editing by John J. Catherine