The Kata’ib Hezbollah fighters detained during a counterterrorism raid in south Baghdad have been released and photos circulated of the Iran-backed fighters lighting the American and Israeli flags on fire upon their release.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command announced last Friday that 14 people were arrested. The arrests came after members from Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) moved in overnight Thursday on a headquarters of Kata’ib Hezbollah in southern Baghdad.
Baghdad’s Green Zone was put under lockdown after armed men from pro-Iranian militias took to the streets to demand the release of the detained men.
AFP reported that an Iraqi judge ordered the case dropped Monday, quoting Kata'ib Hezbollah's spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini. "The judge ordered their release due to a lack of evidence. The arrests shouldn't have happened," he said.
Iran-backed #KataibHezbollah members are now officially released and apparently the first thing they did was to burn US 🇺🇸 and Israel's 🇮🇱 flags!— Nafiseh Kohnavard (@nafisehkBBC) June 29, 2020
They were arrested by Iraqi Counterterrorism forces on Thursday night after a raid on their headquarter in Baghdad. #Iran #Iraq pic.twitter.com/6clpgqVNGM
Kata’ib Hezbollah’s security spokesperson then threatened Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi with punishment, or “torture” after the raid, meant to send a strong message to militias, warning against attacking Iraqi facilities.
But on Monday, Husseini said that his group would be filing a claim against the premier. "The state of law must prevail, not the state of personal whims," Husseini told AFP. A separate spokesman said that a lawsuit would be filed against al-Kadhimi for abduction.
After the fighters were released Monday due to a lack of evidence for their participation in attacks against foreign embassies in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and its international airport, the men were pictured burning the US and Israeli flags.
Kadhimi’s fate going forward
Kadhimi, appointed to head the Iraqi government in May, is the former head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service and journalist.
One of the main challenges for political sides in Iraq to agree on a new prime minister was the backing of pro-Iran parties as well as Washington's green light.
Kadhimi has previously said that he would not allow the country to become a battefield for Washington and Tehran. In recent weeks, the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue kicked off as well.
It remains to be seen how much of an impact last week's operation will have on Kadhimi's support from pro-Iran factions.
Randa Slim, director of the Initiative for Track II Dialogues at the Middle East Institute, said the recent raid on Kata'ib Hezbollah was a small effort in the right direction. “It sends a message to the unwieldy parts of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), like Kata’ib Hezbollah, that there is a new sheriff in town,” Slim told Al Arabiya English.
Yet, she noted the aftermath of the raid and how the standoff with the militia was resolved, showed “the limits al-Kadhimi faces in enforcing the rule of law and control over the PMF.”
Ahead of an anticipated visit by the Iraqi premier to Washington, Slim said that the recent raid improved his chances of receiving a warm welcome.
Meanwhile, Sajad Jiyad, a political analyst based in Baghdad, said al-Kadhimi’s fate depended on if the prime minister continues with such actions. “If he faces off against these groups, does he have enough strength from the security forces to ensure victory? That’s debatable after [the raid],” Jiyad told Al Arabiya English.
- With AFP