Iraqi militias pick successor to commander killed in US strike
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias in Iraq announced on Thursday that their leadership had picked a successor to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the slain deputy chairman of a body known as the Popular Mobilization Committee (PMC) that oversees the armed groups.
Along with top Iranian commander Qasim Soleimani, Muhandis was killed in a US airstrike on the two powerful figures’ convoy just outside the Iraqi capital’s Baghdad International Airport in late December. The American operation came amid heightened Washington-Tehran tensions as militias continued to target US forces in Iraq and stormed part of the US Embassy compound in Baghdad.
The PMC said in a statement that it had tasked Abdul Aziz al-Mohammedawy, also known as Abu Fadak, to replace his former colleague. Fadak previously served as secretary-general to the Tehran-aligned Kata’ib Hizbollah militia under Muhandis' leadership.
Shortly after the assassination, Iranian-backed militia leaders came together to avert a potential leadership crisis. The PMC then formed a seven-member specialized committee to, among other things, decide on the placeholder for the dead commander, according to Middle East Eye which citing sources familiar with the issue. Following weeks of meetings on the topic “in and outside of Iraq,” the committee settled on Fadak.
An unnamed commander in Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, another militia group closely allied with Iran, was reported as remarking that Fadak, known as al-Khal, or “the Uncle” in English, “is strong and a true leader with honorable positions and good relations with all.” He also noted Iran’s direct support for the pick, affirming, “We all chose him, and [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei has supported our option.”
He further highlighted that the move had come amid the “chaos” after Muhandis’ death that he said could have potentially led to the “disintegration and the end of the Hashd al-Shaabi [PMF].”
Washington has accused militias operating under the PMC, most notably Kata’ib Hizbollah, of being behind a slew of attacks on Iraqi bases that house American and other anti-ISIS coalition troops. In one such incident, an American-Iraqi civilian contractor was killed.
Militias in the PMF have also been accused of carrying out part of the violence that has plagued anti-government protests across southern and central parts of Iraq since early October.
According to the media, human rights organizations, the UN, and protesters themselves, militia members have shot demonstrators and activists with sniper rifles and carried out targeted assassinations against those who have taken to the streets to demand a higher standard of living, increased employment opportunities, and an end to rampant governmental corruption.
Editing by John J. Catherine