ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq's Hashd al-Shaabi militias, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), announced on Thursday that fighters from one of its groups had targeted a drone it claimed was flying over its headquarters located near Baghdad.
The 12th Brigade of the PMF, a Shia militia called Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN), openly receives support and direction from Iran.
“Air defenses of the 12th Brigade of the Hashd al-Shaabi targeted a reconnaissance aircraft flying over the headquarters of [the group] on the outskirts of Baghdad,” a statement on the al-Hashed website read, citing a delegate within HHN who said the group had “foiled the mission of the hostile plane.”
It was not clear to whom the drone belonged or in what way its mission had been "foiled" since the militia did not claim to have destroyed it.
The incident comes just a day after the deputy chairman of the PMF, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, said the militias would consider any aircraft flying over their bases as hostile and would respond “appropriately” to any flights not authorized by the Iraqi government.
Muhandis’ remark followed a series of apparent attacks on bases operated by members of the PMF close to Iran. He accused Israel of being behind the action and said the PMF ultimately holds the US responsible. He also claimed that American forces had transported four Israeli drones into Iraq where they operate within US bases.
In an apparent response, the US-led anti-ISIS coalition denied the allegations in a statement, adding that it operates in the country “at the invitation of the Government of Iraq” and complies “with their laws and direction.” Israel has hinted in recent days that it was behind the attacks but have given no official confirmation.
From his side, the chairman of the PMF, Falih Fayyadh, affirmed that the attacks on PMF storage units were, as per a preliminary investigation, “planned foreign acts.” He did, however, repudiate Muhandis’ claim of US and Israeli joint involvement, saying it “does not represent the official position” of the PMF.
The disparity in the statements of the chairman and his deputy highlights a difference in loyalties. While Muhandis has been a close associate of Iran’s notorious Quds Force commander, Qassim Soleimani, Fayyadh seems a pragmatist that balances out the group's relations in a different way.
The Quds Force is the division in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that is responsible for the country’s extraterritorial activities. The US has designated both the IRGC and the HHN terrorist organizations.
The HHN leadership stated earlier this month that it would topple any Iraqi government that is hostile to Iran.
These mounting tensions come amid an ongoing standoff between Iran and the West, primarily the US, which initiated a naval mission in purported efforts to provide safe passage for international oil tankers through the strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway.
Washington’s move was a response to escalations in the strait and in adjacent Gulf waters after six oil tankers were attacked in the area and Iran seized, and still holds, three vessels. Tensions have only climbed since the White House last year withdrew the US from the international Iran nuclear deal and imposed successive rounds of sanctions on Tehran.
As worries of a possible confrontation have spiked—considering the incidents involving the PMF, and, allegedly, Israel and the US—Iraq's prime minister, president, and parliament speaker met on Thursday to discuss potential avenues of action going forward.
In a joint statement, the three top officials said Iraq would not be dragged into a proxy war and vowed to remain neutral.
Editing by John J. Catherine