Security

Iraqis call on militias to curb hostilities after Taji attack

By Faris al-Omran

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Iran-aligned Iraqi militiamen take part in an armed parade in Baghdad in support of Kataib Hizbullah after a US strike on one of their bases near the Iraq-Syria border on June 28th, 2018. [Photo circulated online]

Iraqis are calling for an end to the hostile activities of pro-Iran militias in their country in the wake of a Wednesday (March 11th) attack on Taji airbase that killed three members of the international coalition and wounded a dozen more.

The attack, the 22nd on US interests in Iraq since late October, saw a volley of 18 rockets slam into the airbase north of Baghdad, one of about a dozen facilities across Iraq where international coalition forces are based.

The Iraqi military said the rockets were fired from the back of a truck.

Speaking at a Friday press conference at the Pentagon, US Central Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie confirmed that a truck had been used to carry out the attack, and said Iraqi forces had located and seized possession of it.

He also confirmed the attack had been carried out by Iran-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hizbullah in a "cowardly" manner, noting that the perpetrators had set up the rockets to fire and then run away from the scene.

"We do believe that behind Kataib Hizbullah ultimately is the state of Iran, and Iran is very aware of what they are doing," McKenzie said.

Two US soldiers and one Briton were killed in the attack, triggering retaliatory US airstrikes on five Kataib Hizbullah weapons facilities in the Baghdad area overnight Thursday.

US targets major Iranian proxy

Iraqis who spoke with Diyaruna on Friday said it is time to curb the behaviour of militias linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which poses a serious threat to their country's security and future.

The Taji attack is the largest in recent months in terms of casualties in a series of rocket attacks against US targets in Iraq that have been blamed on Iran-backed militias, notably Kataib Hizbullah, they said.

The US response targeted "a major IRGC proxy in Iraq and the region, Kataib Hizbullah", which has been "responsible for such attacks", said Thaer al-Bayati, secretary general of the Council of Arab Tribes in Salaheddine.

Targeted raids against the militia's bases and its arsenal of weapons that threaten public security were anticipated, al-Bayati told Diyaruna.

He predicted that the US response will probably not stop at that, suggesting that US forces are likely to continue to hunt down and target militia leaders closely linked to the Iranian regime who are working to perpetuate its malign activities.

With the killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and PMF deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and other militia leaders early this year, the US has asserted its ability and intention to deter Iran's plans, he said.

It has signaled that it will carry out similar attacks if Iran and its proxies maintain their threats, he said.

Iraqi government must pursue militias

At the same time, al-Bayati said, "the Iraqi government is required to pursue the militias and stand up to them" in order to defend the country's safety and interests and to protect international missions.

Curbing Iranian influence has become a popular demand, and it is not acceptable for militias to tamper with security and transgress national sovereignty without being met with appropriate deterrence, he stressed.

The militias loyal to Iran "have recently stepped up the pace of their hostile operations through repeated missile strikes on the Green Zone and on military bases", said a Baghdad resident who asked to remain anonymous.

These militias want the country to become a "zone of conflict and of settling scores", he told Diyaruna.

"The militias should not continue their threats, and these groups and the figures running them must be held accountable for their dangerous activities that harm our security, our sovereignty and the future of our children," he said.

"I believe that the time has come to curb these activities," he added.

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