Elite Iraqi force raids base of Iran-aligned militia in Baghdad
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An elite Iraqi unit raided a headquarters of an Iran-aligned militia of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in southern Baghdad late Thursday and arrested a number of its fighters, according to multiple sources and media organizations.
Various sources have given conflicting statements regarding how many fighters from the militia, Kata’ib Hizbollah, were detained and which forces now have custody of them.
The raid, carried out by Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), comes after a recent spike in rocket attacks widely blamed on PMF militias that have targeted diplomatic missions, military bases housing foreign personnel, and Baghdad International Airport.
A source told Kurdistan 24 that some 23 militiamen were captured, the same number reported by Reuters. AFP, however, quoted its own source saying that only 13 fighters had been detained and were still in the custody of Iraqi forces. After an unnamed Iraqi official told the media that three of the fighters had been handed over to US forces, spokesmen from both the US-led Coalition and the PMF denied the claim.
Though Reuters reported that three of the militia's commanders and an Iranian national were among those arrested, a PMF source denied this as well.
So far, official Iraqi sources have not commented on the raid or the numbers of detainees captured during the raid.
Since the PMF were brought into the official Iraqi security apparatus in 2014 to help in the fight against the Islamic State, successive prime ministers have proven unable to control the several most prominent of its militias which receive direct and significant support from Tehran.
Thursday's raid, and how it unfolds in the coming days, could prove to be a crucial test for the nation's current premiere, Mustafa al-Kadhimi. In May, just days after he was sworn in as prime minister, he reversed a decree of his predecessor and reinstated the popular commander of the CTS whose removal was widely seen as having been influenced by Iran.
In its “Strategic Dialogue” with Baghdad, the first session of which was held on June 7, Washington pressed Kadhimi's new administration to rein in the PMF.
The latest US State Department annual report on terrorism, released on Wednesday, blamed Kata’ib Hizbollah for multiple attacks against military bases and other facilities of the Iraqi and US governments in Iraq, as well as those of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition.
The rockets used in most such attacks are generally fired from improvised launchers and often cause no causalities but the attacks have served as a constant reminder of the often violent struggle for dominance being fought behind the scenes in Iraq by various armed forces and the political parties to which they are aligned.
Editing by John J. Catherine