A security spokesman for an Iran-backed militia issued a statement on Friday threatening Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, describing him as an “American agent,” following an overnight raid on the group by security forces.
The Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah security spokesperson threatened al-Kadhimi with punishment, or “torture” after the raid that led to the arrest of over a dozen fighters, which sent a strong message to militias, warning against attacking Iraqi facilities.
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“Let this mutant know that the sword of the resistance is the sword of Ali ‘peace be upon him’ and [the men of the resistance] will only submit to God,” Abu Ali al-Askari said in a Telegram statement. “We are waiting for you to suffer from God’s torture, or by our hands.”
Al-Askari also accused al-Kadhimi of attempting to distance himself from the killing of the “two martyrs,” in reference to the January drone strike which killed Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani and deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes.
Initial reports circulated that Baghdad’s Green Zone was put under lockdown following the raids by Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) on a militia headquarters in southern Baghdad. According to Al Arabiya sources and videos, several militiamen carrying weapons took to the streets following the arrests, causing tension and fear.
Early morning today, Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militias patrolling the streets of Baghdad following the arrest of over a dozen members for plotting rocket attacks on Iraqi military bases that house US-led coalition forces. #Iraq pic.twitter.com/TkIYgdmkEo— Baxtiyar Goran (@BaxtiyarGoran) June 26, 2020
Three leaders from Kata’ib Hezbollah were arrested and handed over to the US military, an Iraqi security official told Reuters. One of the leaders was Iranian, the news agency said.
But this was denied by the US Department of Defense.
“Detainees were not handed to US forces,” a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) told Al Arabiya English.
The spokesperson added that there were “no US/Coalition forces involved in these raids. We refer you to the Iraqi Security Media Cell on Twitter for any updates on the operation.”
The Iraqi Security Media Cell had not posted anything on Twitter regarding the raid.
It is unclear how many fighters were exactly arrested with the PMF saying 19, while a government official told Reuters it was 23.
Thursday’s raid was the first such incident since al-Kadhimi took office and pledged to crack down on militias.
During the raid, rocket launchers were confiscated as the fighters were targeted for their participation in attacks on bases hosting US troops and other facilities in Iraq.
Sajad Jiyad, a political analyst based in Baghdad, said that those detained had been or would be released, as there were no judicial warrants for their arrest, and there was no evidence they committed a crime.
Asked why the raid took place, Jiyad told Al Arabiya English, “The fact the CTS was used in the raid shows the aim was to send a message that attacks targeting Iraqi facilities such as Baghdad airport and the Green Zone will not be tolerated.”
This seemed to be validated with Reuters citing that one senior PMF official said that after some negotiation, the detainees were handed over to paramilitary security forces.
Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi was appointed as the head of CTS by Kadhimi after the prime minister’s predecessor, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, demoted the security chief prompting nationwide protests last October. Al-Saadi was seen as a national hero for his role in the Iraqi military campaign against ISIS.