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Iraq must keep pressure on Iran agents, experts say

By Faris al-Omran

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Iraqi forces found a Katyusha rocket on July 5th in Baghdad's Um al-Itham neighbourhood that was prepared for launch at the Taji military base that hosts international forces. [Photo courtesy of Security Media Cell]

The Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi, must keep up the pressure on Iran-backed militias such as Kataib Hizbullah in order to curb their influence and put a stop to their illegal activities, experts said.

On June 25th, a special operations unit of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) launched a raid on Kataib Hizbullah in the southern Baghdad neighbourhood of al-Dora.

The operation, green-lighted by the judiciary, resulted in the arrest of 14 militiamen who are accused of being behind deadly rocket attacks that targeted US military and diplomatic installations in Iraq.

The raid has been described as the "boldest" of its kind against one of the most violent Iran-aligned militias operating in Iraq, military expert Jalil Khalaf Shwayel told Diyaruna.

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Members of the Iran-backed militia Kataib Jund al-Imam take part in a march on June 23rd, 2017. [Photo circulated online]

The raid was "necessary to make these factions understand that their attempts to tarnish the prestige and sovereignty of the state is rejected and should not be ignored", he said.

"It is unacceptable that these factions behave in the way they do," he said. "We had to intervene and put a stop to their unruliness."

The militias have been holding military parades in the streets of the Iraqi capital, he noted, describing their attempts to infiltrate the fortified Green Zone in retaliation for the arrest as "unjustified and provocative".

"Iraqis feel resentment towards these rogue factions, and saw their parade and the pressure they have exerted in order to force the government to release their members as a sign of rebellion and disrespect," he said.

Four days after the raid, all those in custody were released on bail except for one, who remained for interrogation, even though the charges against them were not dropped.

Acting outside the law

Iran-aligned militias in Iraq, which include Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Organisation, Harakat al-Nujaba and Saraya al-Khurasani, in addition to Kataib Hizbullah, operate under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

Although the PMF, formed in 2014 to combat the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) is officially associated with the government, the militias refuse to obey its directives and have acted on their own, outside the law.

The government has to continue its escalation against rogue factions that consider themselves above the law, Shwayel said. "We have to undermine their influence and confront their hostile acts that threaten the country."

Iran-backed militias have been accused of launching dozens of missile attacks over the past several months against government offices, the US embassy in Baghdad and military bases hosting international forces.

"The latest raid on the militia headquarters was a brave operation," said Ghazi Faisal Hussain, a consultant at the Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies.

"It was implemented based on precise intelligence, resulting in the seizure of weapons and missiles ready for launch," he told Diyaruna.

Through the attacks they have staged in Iraq, he said, Iran-backed militias have sought "to spread chaos, destabilise the security situation and weaken official state institutions".

This is part of an Iranian effort "to take control of the state", he said.

Reaping revenue in Iraq

These militias engage in illegal activities that include drug dealing, oil smuggling, controlling border crossings and imposing customs fees and tariffs, all of which allow them to reap significant revenues, Hussain said.

They are deeply invested in keeping money flowing into their coffers through such activities, he said, and are pushing back on any steps the government takes to impose the rule of law and control the possession of weapons.

This has harmed the Iraqi economy, and stands in the way of its prosperity and advancement, in order to serve the economic interests of the Iranian regime and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), he said.

Iran-backed militias will stop at nothing to harm Iraq and its economy, military expert Rabie al-Jawary told Diyaruna.

"They want to keep Iraq in a state of crisis and instability, from a security and economic standpoint, so they can impose their control and enrich themselves," he said.

The way these militias responded to the raid on the Kataib Hizbullah headquarters is indicative of how vicious they are, and how they are willing to do anything to protect their illegitimate interests, al-Jawary said.

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The people can expel the militias in just one hour.

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When God rids us of Iran, we’ll be just fine and safe. Iran is a spiteful country that is after the wealth of Iraq.

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You talk about the forces that protected Iraq and forget terrorism and the terrorists, including the 5,000 Saudis who blew themselves up in Iraq, killing thousands of innocent Iraqis, including old people, women, and children. How comes that you don’t judge well?!!

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