Senior Iraqi militia commander arrested after attacks on US troops
Iraqi security forces arrested a senior Shiite paramilitary leader on Wednesday in an extent that will increase tensions with powerful Iran-backed militias accused of attacks on international forces and the murder of hundreds of protesters and activists .
The arrest places the Prime Minister’s loyalist security forces in the military and counterterrorism services directly at odds with the militias that make up an organization of state-sanctioned groups.
Qassim Musleh, leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) was arrested in the western province of Anbar, apparently by Interior Ministry forces.
It is still unclear why Mr Musleh was arrested, but an arrest warrant, widely circulated on social media and confirmed by a court official, indicates he is wanted for terrorism.
Security officials told Reuters the arrest was linked to a recent rocket attack on the Iraqi-US base of Al Asad. Mr. Musleh’s forces are stationed not far from the base.
Mr Musleh also heads a militia called Al Tufuf, which has worked alongside Iranian-backed groups in Al Qaim, a strategically important town on the border with Syria.
Since taking office in May, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi has attempted to contain Tehran-backed militias, but has so far failed.
Security forces killed two protesters in Baghdad on Tuesday demanding justice for dozens of murdered activists, shouting “who killed me?” and carrying pictures of the dead.
Mr. Al Kadhimi has repeatedly promised inquiries into the deaths of protesters.
In June 2020, the country’s counterterrorism forces arrested 14 militiamen from the Iranian-backed radical group Kataib Hezbollah, which plays a leading role in the PMF.
The men were accused of planning a rocket attack on Baghdad’s green zone, but were released a few days later and the case was closed.
In December, security forces arrested Hamid Al Jazairi, the former deputy commander of the Al Khorasani Brigades, another large group backed by Iran, and more than a dozen of his supporters.
The next day, the group’s commander, Ali Al Yassiri, was arrested. Then officials said they were arrested for corruption.
When the Iraqi security forces collapsed in mid-2014 as ISIS swept across northern and western Iraq, Shiite volunteers and militias responded to a call from the influential Shiite cleric in the country, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, to join the fight.
Some of these groups were newly formed and loyal to the Quietist Ayatollah, and refrained from attacking international forces or killing protesters.
But these groups have since moved closer to the Iraqi Defense Ministry, leaving other more powerful groups like Kataib Hezbollah and Al Tufuf to continue operations on behalf of Iran.
As major military operations ended and ISIS was declared defeated at the end of 2017, scores of Shiite militias rushed to win lucrative government reconstruction deals in liberated areas, many of which were in ruins. .
Part of the Iran-allied faction within the PMF has been accused of murdering activists and protesters since 2019, when pro-reform rallies erupted, also denouncing Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.