September 22, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8941

Iraqi Shi'ite Militia Commanders, Clerics, And MPs Echo Iran's Condemnation Of Attacks On Diplomatic Missions In Iraq

September 22, 2020
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 8941

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Since Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi traveled to Washington on August 19, 2020 to attend bilateral strategic talks, the number of attacks carried out by Iran-backed groups in Iraq has surged, including rocket attacks targeting Iraqi military bases housing U.S.-led Coalition forces, and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on logistical convoys carrying supplies to U.S. forces.

On September 15, Sabreen News, a Telegram channel affiliated with Iraq's Iran-backed Shi'ite militias, reported that the Avenger Brigades released a statement claiming the group's fighters had "killed three U.S. officers in two IED attacks which targeted a U.S. vehicle near Victory army base in Baghdad, Iraq."[1] In a separate post, the channel reported that the Avenger Brigades had also claimed responsibility for an IED attack on a vehicle belonging to the U.K. Embassy in central Baghdad. It added that a British officer was killed in the attack.[2]

On September 17, an IED targeted a center for teaching American English in Najaf city center in the early hours of the morning, resulting in material damage. According to local media, the institute is a privately-owned language-learning center and is not affiliated with the U.S. government. While no armed group claimed responsibility for the attack, a video documenting the wreckage was widely shared and celebrated on Telegram channels affiliated with Iran-backed militias.[3]

The attack in the city of Najaf came only a few days after Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Ali Al-Sistani, issued a statement highlighting his meeting with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. In his statement, the Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah extended his support to the plans of Al-Kadhimi's government to hold early elections, confiscate illegal arms, stop armed groups from dividing Iraq, fight corruption, and seek justice for those who were killed, injured, or abducted during the October 2019 reform protests.[4]

Following this recent escalation of attacks against diplomatic missions and Shi'ite holy cities such as Najaf, several Iran-backed clerics, politicians and senior militia commanders issued statements condemning such attacks.

On September 18, Jawad Al-Talibybawi, a senior commander in Asa'ib Ahal Al-Haq tweeted that targeting diplomatic missions is unacceptable, because it damages the stature of the state, but that targeting occupiers is legitimate both legally and religiously. He wrote: "We repeatedly said that if America agreed to the Iraqi Parliament's decision to leave Iraq's sacred lands, then any military action against them [the U.S.] will have no legal or religious cover and vice versa."[5]

Muhammad Al-Baldawi, an Iraqi MP from the Sadikoun movement, the political wing of the Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq militia, echoed the same sentiment, saying that the groups that are targeting embassies and diplomatic missions are working to sabotage Iraq's relationship with the world: "They seek to show Iraq in a weak position before the rest of the world, and humiliate the stature of the Iraqi State." He pointed out that embassies and diplomatic missions provide a window for Iraq to communicate with the world, and called on the Al-Kadhimi government to provide protection for anyone whose presence on Iraqi soil is legal.[6]

Abu Ali Al Askari, a senior commander in the Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq, shared a statement on Telegram, commenting on the attack on the English language learning center in Najaf, in which he stated that a sacred city such as Najaf should not be the location for any extreme force or violent attacks, even if the targets are legitimate.[7]

He added: "Targeting diplomatic missions has no value if they do not pose an imminent or obvious threat." He further said that U.S. forces deployed around the "evil" U.S. Embassy "should leave" because they jeopardize the safety of civilians living nearby, and that their presence is a violation of Iraq's sovereignty. "It is not logical that an embassy has 2,500 security and military men, equipped with heavy and deadly weapons, all deployed inside a residential area," he said.

Al-Askari's statement coincided with another statement by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who warned against targeting diplomatic missions and cultural centers, saying such attacks do not serve the interests of Iraq. He added that the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq should be pursued via political and parliamentary venues. "Those who violate these instructions are jeopardizing Iraq and its people, and subjecting them to imminent danger," he said.[8]

Meanwhile, Ammar Al-Hakim, leader of the Al-Hikama movement, which supports Al-Kadhimi's government, condemned the attack on the U.K. Embassy vehicle, warning that "Targeting diplomatic missions in Iraq, the most recent of which targeted a British Embassy convoy, entails many risks and may prompt the countries of the world to reduce their presence and diplomatic representation in Iraq. As we condemn such attacks, we call on the [Iraqi] government to take an active role in protecting diplomatic missions and to not allow such acts to sabotage the reputation of this country, which is looking forward to restoring and consolidating its network of foreign relations."[9]

These statements of condemnation were in line with with remarks made by Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, who, on September 18, in response to reports about the roadside bombing that targeted a UK diplomatic vehicle in Baghdad, condemned any attack on foreign diplomatic missions. Khatibzadeh also noted that Iranian diplomats and diplomatic sites in Iraq had been the targets of such attacks, calling on the Iraqi government to bolster its protection of diplomatic missions.[10]


[1] September 15, 2020

[2] September 15, 2020

[3] Telegram, SabreenS1, September 17, 2020.

[4], September 13, 2020.

[5], September 18, 2020.

[6], September 20, 2020.

[7] Telegram, Abualaskary, September 18, 2020.

[8], September 18, 2020.

[9], September 15, 2020.

[10], September 17, 2020.

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