Security

For Iraqis, militia attacks bring terror groups to mind

By Hassan al-Obeidi in Baghdad

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An Iraqi man carries a placard that reads 'Enough Killing' during a protest outside the Green Zone in Baghdad on July 12th to demand a curb on militias and call for the use of weapons to be restricted to government forces. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

Militia attacks targeting truck convoys and diplomatic and military installations in Iraq are reminiscent of those carried out by al-Qaeda and the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), Iraqi observers and politicians told Diyaruna.

Three separate attacks in 24 hours targeted Western diplomatic or military installations, security and diplomatic sources said Tuesday (September 15th).

On Tuesday morning, an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a British embassy vehicle returning from Baghdad airport, a diplomatic source told AFP.

The attack, the first against a British government vehicle in Iraq in more than a decade, took place just outside the high-security Green Zone, the source said.

Overnight, two Katyusha rockets targeted the US embassy, also in the Green Zone, the same security official said.

The embassy's C-RAM rocket defence system shot both down. The C-RAM, set up earlier this year at the embassy, scans for incoming munitions and explodes them in the air by targeting them with several thousand bullets per minute.

On Monday, two IEDs targeted an international coalition equipment convoy, the Iraqi military said in a statement.

Iraqi intelligence sources have blamed similar attacks on a small group of Iran-backed militias.

Before the attacks this week, Iran-affiliated militias had carried out 11 attacks since August, targeting transport company convoys carrying goods to international coalition forces in Dhi Qar, Babil, Basra, Wasit and Baghdad.

One of these attacks, carried out with locally-made IEDs, killed a 28-year-old taxi driver, injured seven others, and damaged private and public property.

On August 21st, south of Baghdad, a militia detonated an IED planted in the middle of a busy road, killing one person and wounding two others.

A September 2nd attack in Babil province injured two civilians, and another attack, targeting a convoy transporting miscellaneous supplies to a military base north-west of Baghdad, wounded a police officer.

Attacks hurt Iraqi civilians

"The attacks carried out by Iran-backed militias are not much different than those carried out in Iraq by al-Qaeda between 2003 and 2012 and later by ISIS," a Ministry of Interior official told Diyaruna.

In both cases, the official said on condition of anonymity, the attackers claimed "they inflicted casualties in the ranks of foreign forces, when in truth the only victims were Iraqi civilians".

The militias carrying out the attacks include Kataib Hizbullah, Harakat al-Nujaba, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Saraya al-Khurasani, Kataib Imam Ali and Sayyed al-Shuhada.

New militias have emerged recently with names such as Ashab al-Kahf (People of the Cave) and al-Thaar (Revenge), the official said, "but in truth they are only fronts for the mother militias".

"The convoys that are being attacked have nothing to do with US or international coalition forces," he said, explaining that they are actually private Iraqi transport companies that deliver food, electrical appliances and various spare parts.

"These convoys do not carry materials of a military or security nature, yet the militias continue to claim they are targeting international coalition convoys with their various attacks," he said. "This is simply not true."

The recent attacks have proven the militias do not have the capability to threaten coalition forces, security affairs expert Ahmed al-Hadithi told Diyaruna.

This is evidenced by the fact that they are targeting trucks driven by Iraqi drivers and carrying ordinary civilian goods, he said.

By using IEDs, these militias have been carrying out attacks under the cover of ISIS, which often stages this type of attack, al-Hadithi said, adding that Iran-backed militias now pose a major threat to the security and stability of Iraq.

'An act of war against Iraq'

Iraqi MP Hamid al-Mutlaq said the attacks are a challenge to the state and Iraqi law, noting that the international coalition is present at Iraq's request, made in 2014, and the current government has affirmed its need for this support.

This makes the targeting of a convoy carrying goods to the international coalition and firing rockets at the Green Zone and bases that host these forces "acts of war that are foremost against the Iraqi state", he told Diyaruna.

The Iraqi government faces the challenge of restoring the rule of law and sovereignty of the state, curbing uncontrolled weapons, and deeming such attacks a threat as grave as the threat posed by terror groups, he said.

Iraqi activist Ahmed Haqqi said the repeated militia attacks are causing Iraqis to increasingly reject and revile the Iran-backed militias, as they fear they will drag them back to the cycle of bombings, roadblocks and death.

"Such attacks are not only isolating militia members from Iraqi society, which is increasingly hostile towards them," he told Diyaruna, "but they are also making Iraqis no longer want to see any Iranian activity in their country."

"This has become evident in the recent period at the economic, commercial and even social levels," he said, "and it should now be clear that Iraqis are not willing to compromise their security again, for any reason."

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