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January 13, 2020 No.
8491

Commanders Of Shi'ite Militias In Iraq Continue To Threaten U.S. Forces While Seeking To Mend Internal Rifts

On January 12, amidst escalating tensions between the U.S. and pro-Iran militias in Iraq, Balad Air Base in northern Iraq, which houses U.S. personnel, was attacked. The attack, which wounded four Iraqis, including two officers, was carried out by a group of fighters who fired eight Katyushas at Balad Air Base according to a statement by the Iraqi military media center.

Shortly after the attack, Bashar Al-Sa'adi, the media officer of the Al-Nujaba Movement, a group in the Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), tweeted[1] that the PMU was behind it. "Balad Air Base, where the soldiers of the U.S. occupation are based, was knocked out with several rockets, by the resistance it seems. Death to America." He later deleted the tweet after the Iraqi military announced that the attack led to causalities among Iraqis.


(Source: Twitter.com)

On January 13, Al-Saadi tweeted[2] again, this time condemning the attack, saying that "the resistance" fighters would never target Iraqis.

"What happened in Balad base yesterday is similar to what had happened to the embassy [i.e., U.S. Embassy]. Those who target Iraqis and those who missed targeting the embassy are the same. No targeting for non-Americans in the dictionary of the resistance."

In the tweet, he quotes Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, saying that the latter instructed them not to target American civilans, "so [that there would be] no way we would target Iraqis."


(Source: Twitter.com)

On his side, Akram Al-Kaabi, Secretary-General of the Al-Nujaba Movement in Iraq, made a visit to the family of Qassem Soleimani in Iran, where he pledged, in a video released by his office, that Iraq "will not be safe for the Americans."

In the video he further says: "The resistance front will soon retaliate against the perpetrators of this terrorist act."  Addressing Zainab Solemani, Al-Kaabi says: "You have the right to demand revenge and take revenge against the killers of your father, Haj Qassem Soleimani, and you will soon hear news in this regard."

He then concludes: "I came here to offer my condolences to you, and I promise that Iraq will no longer be safe for the Americans."[3]


Al-Kaabi visiting Soleimani's family (Source: Twitter.com)

PMU Commanders Meet In Iran

Along with Abu Alaa Al-Walai, leader of Kata'ib Sayyid Al-Shuhada, Al-Kaabi participated in a meeting for PMU leaders with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. The meeting, which took place in Qom, Iran, is reportedly part of efforts between the PMU factions to agree on a unified position regarding their new roles following the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.

It is worth noting that Qais Al-Khazali, commander of Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq, was not present at the meeting, yet his media office says his deputy was.

Local media[4] in Iraq reported that the meetings discussed reinstating Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to his position following his call[5] to expel U.S. forces from Iraq, a move that was welcomed by pro-Iran elements in Iraq.


PMU commanders met with Muqatda Al-Sadr (Source; Al-Nujaba media office)

It should also be noted that Hadi Al-Amiri, the new deputy commander of the PMU and commander of the Badr organization traveled to Qom, Iran, where he met separately with Al-Sadr[6].

Rifts Among PMU Commanders

The recent meetings between the PMU leaders and Al-Sadr coincides with speculation in Iraqi media about "intractable" rifts among PMU leaders over influence and power that some say have "worsened after the assassination of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis".

It is worth mentioning that some of the PMU leaders such as Qais Al-Khazali and Akram Al-Kaabi were part of Al-Sadr's Jaish Al-Mahdi militia before they had defected and were later empowered by Soleimani to establish and head their own militias.

Al-Sadr himself is said to have been marginalized by Soleimani who saw in Qais Al-Khazali a better candidate for an Iraqi version of Hassan Nasrallah.

Meanwhile, photos showing the PMU flag in a recent press conference for the Iranian Air Force Commander of the Revolutionary Guards,[7] reinforces the belief that some PMU commanders are no longer willing to stay under the umbrella of the Iraqi government and feel more comfortable openly aligning with Iran following Soleimani's assassination.


PMU flag raised in a recent press conference for the Iranian Air Force Commander of IRGC. [Source: Baghdad Today]

Another series of photos that surfaced on Iraqi social media show some PMU leaders holding hands with Esmail Qa'ani, the new commander of the Qods Force. These photos raise questions regarding the future association of the PMU with the Iraqi government, and specifically whether the latter will become a source that provides the PMU with salaries but has no authority over them.

 


[1] Twitter.com/Hamzoz/status/1216488109635969025, January 12, 2020.

[2] Twitter.com/basharsaad1985/status/1216611615270998021, January 12, 2020.

[3] Twitter.com/basharsaad1985/status/1216453997978169348, January 12, 2020.

[4] Nasnews.com, January 13, 2020.

[6] Rudaw.net, January 12, 2020.

[7] Baghdadtoday.news, January 9, 2020