Arab Daily Reports Behind-The-Scenes Activity Of Iraqi Militias Against U.S. Forces, Directed By Iran, Since Outbreak Of Gaza War

February 14, 2024

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On February 9, 2024, the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published[1] a lengthy article reviewing activity of Iran-backed militias in Iraq since the start of the ongoing war in Gaza. This report is based on the article.

Iraqi Armed Factions Decide To Launch Attacks On U.S. Forces According To Previous Agreement

On November 2, 2023, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) published[2] a video documenting an "urgent" meeting conducted that day to discuss the Israel-Hamas war which began on October 7. The meeting was attended by most of the central commanders in the Iraqi factions, including PMU Chief of Staff Abdul Aziz Al-Mohammadawi aka Abu Fadak, who warned of "signs of war in the region" and said cryptically: "The sensitive situation in the region and what will happen depends primarily on our adherence to what we have agreed upon."

Al-Mohammadawi's intentions were revealed a day later, in a speech delivered by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who praised Iraqis for their decision to attack U.S. forces, describing it as "smart and brave." A few days after the PMU announced a state of emergency, a group calling itself "the Islamic Resistance in Iraq" announced that it would begin carrying out operations against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for U.S. support of Israeli forces in Gaza.[3]

The article reported that a middle-ranking PMU intelligence officer stated that two weeks earlier, he returned to southern Iraq from Syria. On his way back, he received a phone call from another officer, who updated him about the "new atmosphere." According to the officer, who asked to remain anonymous, the Iraqi factions entered a state of alert on their own accord, without guidance.

Iranian Officials Meet Iraqi Politicians, Military; Appoint Anonymous Figure To Oversee Iraqi Factions

In the first week of the war, Iranian officials conducted meetings with politicians from the Shi'ite Coordination Framework (SCF) and field commanders in armed Shi'ite factions. According to the Saudi daily, the aforementioned officer stated: "They told us that we are part of Iran and its forces in the region. [They said:] 'You are the striking hand to protect Shi'ism. The time has come not only to liberate Al-Aqsa, but to rule the countries of the region… This is your golden age.'" He adds: "One of the Iranians said sadly: 'If Tehran were in a location like Al-Anbar, in western Iraq, we would liberate Jerusalem in a few days.' After that, the Iraqi attendees went crazy."

According to a source in the Sunni Progress Party (Al-Takadum Movement), the presence of PMU forces in Iraq's Al-Anbar governorate prevents governorate officials from playing "political roles" that might anger Shi'ite parties. The source also said: "The remaining of these forces near the Syrian border is highly important to Iran; to ensure the geographical connection between groups of the resistance axis."

Before leaving Iraq, the Iranian officials assigned an unknown "Arab figure" to stay in Iraq, work closely with Iraqi groups, and follow developments in the war in Gaza. According to local commanders in Shi'ite factions, faction commanders refer to him as the "Hajj," and he practically commands the "operations room" of the resistance.

Media outlets close to Lebanese Hizbullah use the title "Hajj" to refer to the group's prominent military official Mohammad Kawtharani and other commanders. The article estimates that Kawtharani has been directing the field operations of Iran-backed Iraqi factions since mid-2021.

According to second-line commanders in Iraqi factions that have recently become active in Iraq's Al-Anbar and Kirkuk governorates, the groups which have intensified their activity since last November are all part of "one array." Its tactic, they explain, is based on groups capable of flexible movement, preparing rocket launch platforms, and launching within a short time. The changes that occurred during that last two months of 2023 required the factions to redeploy in new locations, in striking distance of military bases in Erbil and Syria.

Iraqi Factions Discuss Assaulting Western Ships, Smuggle Weaponry To Yemen's Houthis

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that on November 20, 2023, Hadi Al Ameri, secretary-general of the Badr Organization militia, held a meeting with faction commanders to discuss the "dangers of escalation." The meeting was attended by Qais Al-Khazali, secretary-general of the Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haqq militia, and representatives of the Al-Nujaba Movement, Hizbullah Brigades, and additional factions.

According to leaks, the participants discussed ways of expelling U.S. forces from Iraq and possibilities to attack Western merchant ships. One of the attendees reported that his group had smuggled military technologies and equipment to forces of the Ansar Allah Movement (the Houthis) in Yemen, which would enhance their capabilities in the Red Sea. Two weeks later, on December 3, the Houthis claimed an attack on two "Israeli" ships in Bab-el-Mandeb, using a rocket and a drone.[4]

Iraqi Factions Attack U.S. Forces For Political Gains; Al-Khazali Is In Charge Of Resistance Propaganda

According to a former Iraqi government official, the Iranian plan drawn up following October 7 stipulated that armed factions would have freedom of action to carry out operations against U.S. forces, while the groups forming the government would use political means to relieve U.S. pressure on those factions for as long as possible.

Iraqi MP Sajjad Salem, the Saudi daily further reported, claimed that a large part of the "resistance" operations have nothing to do with the war in Gaza; rather, the factions "blackmail" their Shi'ite partners and the government for political gains.

Qais Al-Khazali is the person in charge of the resistance propaganda, according to "reliable sources" who have known the man closely since 2015. According to the former government official, Iranians view Al-Khazali as a skilled politician who quickly learned to design maneuvers and control public opinion trends. He added that Al-Khazali has become the "only cornerstone" in Iran's long-term strategy in Iraq.

The former official explained that one idea that several Shi'ite party leaders discussed with the Iranians was to search for a "scapegoat" who could be eliminated to appease the Americans, but the Iranians rejected the proposal.

Since mid-October 2023, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed nearly 200 assaults on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, as well as various targets in Israel.[5]

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