The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) on Sunday (December 13th) arrested Hamid al-Jazairy, a top leader of pro-Iran militia Saraya al-Khurasani, and 15 of his followers during an operation in Baghdad.
This followed "co-ordination and intelligence work by the government to take out former leaders of armed factions responsible for threatening Iraqi interests and damaging its foreign relations", said political analyst Ahmed Shawqi.
"Al-Jazairy is a leader whose activity in violation of the country's sovereignty and integrity has caused great embarrassment to the government in recent months," he told Diyaruna.
He pointed to a series of militia attacks on diplomatic missions and military headquarters hosting international coalition soldiers.
"The government considers these attacks and other acts of violence a major threat to the state," he said.
Duty therefore requires that the commanders of these factions be arrested and prosecuted under the law, he said, after gathering intelligence to determine if they are responsible for any activity that threatens security and order.
The arrest came more than two months after al-Jazairy was dismissed from command of the PMF's 18th Brigade by decision of PMF chairman Faleh al-Fayyad, for unknown reasons.
Further arrests expected
Al-Jazairy is a prominent militia leader who was one of those who led the demonstration organised by followers of Kataib Hizbullah in front of the US embassy in Baghdad a year ago, Shawqi noted.
Acts of sabotage took place at the time, and the building's gate was set on fire.
Al-Jazairy also could be seen in the front row at the funeral of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and PMF deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in a US strike near Baghdad Airport at the beginning of this year.
Some reports at the time said al-Jazairy had been killed in the strike, as he was standing close to Soleimani, but he then issued an audio recording refuting the news.
Saraya al-Khurasani is accused of being responsible for rocket attacks on the Green Zone and military bases in Baghdad, as well as for shooting at and killing several demonstrators during the popular protests.
It also has been accused of participating with Kataib Hizbullah and other groups in the assassination of protest activists, media professionals and other prominent figures, among them security expert Hisham al-Hashemi.
Rising tensions within PMF
Al-Jazairy's arrest comes amid reports of rising tensions among PMF factions, with leaks indicating there have been sharp differences over influence between pro-Iran factions Kataib Hizbullah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
It is expected there will be further arrests of militia commanders soon, Shawqi said, in a step that reflects the government's move towards imposing the state's authority and holding to account any party that defies the law.
News circulated Monday that Saraya al-Khurasani secretary general Ali al-Yasiri had surrendered himself to the PMF security department, after a force from the department conducted a campaign to search for him.
During the campaign, they detained 30 militiamen associated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC).