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memri
June 28, 2018 No.
7542

Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) Threaten To Respond To Attack On Their Forces At Iraq-Syria Border: We Can Fire Missiles At The U.S. Embassy, U.S. Forces In Iraq

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

On June 17, 2018, positions of Iraqi, Lebanese, and pro-Syrian regime Shi'ite forces were attacked  at the Iraq-Syria border. According to various reports, some 50 men were killed in the attack, 24 of whom belonged to militias that are members of the Iraqi Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi (Popular Mobilization Units – PMU) umbrella organization. It should be noted that under Iraqi law, the PMU is part of the Iraqi armed forces and subject to their general command, that is, to the Iraqi prime minister.

The U.S. denied all involvement in the attack; PMU elements said that they are not ruling out the possibility that Israel is responsible for it, and that it was at the very least coordinated with the U.S.

At a June 24, 2018 press conference, PMU officials clarified that the initial findings of an investigative committee it had appointed showed that "the June 17 crime against a PMU forces position west of Al-Anbar in the Al-Qa'im region, 200 meters from the [Syrian border, was carried out] with American planning and by means of a missile that struck one of our fighters' important positions."[1]

PMU elements, particularly the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Kata'ib Hizbullah, threatened a harsh response against the attackers, whoever they may be, and hinted that they could strike the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as well as American forces at the Iraq-Syria border.

This report will review PMU elements' reactions to the attack and possible military responses to it:

Kata'ib Hizbullah: The Bombing Of Our Forces "Will Reopen The Conflict With The Zionist Entity" And With The U.S.

Several hours after the attack, Kata'ib Hizbullah released a communique stating that it was not surprised by the attack on its forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) because the U.S. and Israel desired ISIS's survival. It also warned: "This loathsome crime will reopen the conflict with the Zionist entity and with the American plan. We in Kata'ib Hizbullah have not hesitated, and will not hesitate, to enter into this conflict. The spilling of this clear and pure blood by the offspring of the murderers of the prophets [i.e. the Jews] is a great honor. This only strengthens our belief that we are in the right place and [headed in] the right direction. Our fighters in Kata'ib Hizbullah will always yearn to give their lives in this way, [that is,] in conflict with the oppressing Zionist entity and the evil and destructive U.S. that is behind it... We will not allow the crime of striking our fighters pass in silence. In the coming days, we will know the identity of the criminals whose filthy hands carried out their aggression on the Iraqi border and then we will formulate a position that will suit the severity of this crime."[2]


Kata'ib Hizbullah emblem

Kata'ib Hizbullah military spokesman Ja'far Al-Husseini also warned that the organization would act against Israel and the U.S., saying that the resistance factions had decided that "the attack would bring Iraq back into conflict with Israel, if [indeed] it was Israel that carried it out." He clarified that the resistance factions were not concealing their presence in Syria, where they were operating against ISIS and the terrorists in coordination with Syrian regime forces, and that the factions sought to control the Iraq-Syria border region in order to prevent terrorist movement there. He said: "If Damascus asks Kata'ib [Hizbullah] to participate in a battle in southern Syria, they will comply with this request."[3]

On another occasion, Al-Husseini said: "The arena is open and the hand of the resistance extends everywhere. This blood [spilled in the attack] will bring Iraq back into the arena of direct conflict vis-à-vis the Zionist entity in the days to come."[4] Regarding the American presence in Iraq, he said that the brigades will not allow "the Americans to be present [in Iraq] and will not allow Iraq to be[come] American."[5]

With the release of the initial findings of the investigative committee appointed by the PMU, which, as noted, blamed the U.S. for the attack, PMU deputy commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis announced: "The attack was clearly [carried out]  by the U.S.... We say to the Americans: Although we are subject to the Iraqi government and the general command of the [Iraqi] armed forces, we will not allow the attack on us to go unpunished. The attack was carried out by means of a missile, and the shrapnel from it is in our possession..."[6]

Also, at a protest rally held by several Iran-backed militias in conjunction with the PMU, speakers blamed the U.S. for the attack, and threatened to respond. Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis said: "The U.S. bears the main responsibility for the attack, since it is operating in Iraq in the framework of the international [anti-ISIS] coalition." Hamed Al-Jaza'iri, deputy commander of the PMU member group Saraya Al-Khorasani, warned: "The Islamic resistance will wipe Israel and terrorism off the map, and will react to the attack at the appropriate place and time."[7]

Threats To Strike American, Israeli Targets

Spokesmen for the militias, as well as reports in the Arab and Iraqi media, noted several response options. One of these involved a missile attack on the U.S. Embassy in central Baghdad. The Sawt Al-Iraq website reported: "Local sources said that the factions of the PMU militias had fired missiles at the American Embassy in Baghdad." However, Baghdad district council security committee member Ghaleb Al-Zamili denied this report and called it "inaccurate information." He added: "There was no shelling of the embassy or of any other place in Baghdad."[8] Kata'ib Hizbullah military spokesman Al-Husseini did not rule out the possibility that such an attack could take place in the future, and said of the report of the missile attack on the embassy: "I did not hear about this. I cannot deny or confirm [the report], because I was never informed of an official position on the subject. The resistance has the capability to strike the U.S. Embassy in central Baghdad. In order for it to do so, there would have to be a decision [by its leadership], and so far there has been no such decision. If there is one, it will be carried out, and no pressure from the part of political  or friendly elements on the resistance will be able to stop it from being carried out, after [the decision] is made..."[9]

Another possibility raised is striking the 'Ain Al-'Asad airbase west of Al-Anbar, Iraq, where American and Iraqi troops are stationed. The London-based Qatari Al-Arabi Al-Jadid daily reported, citing "a senior official in the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi," that "Sheikh Abu Kazem Al-Mousawi, a commander of [the PMU] militias, has been in Baghdad for the past two days, and has met with PMU leaders [to discuss] a response to the attack." According  to this official, "[Kata'ib] Hizbullah gunmen are trying to respond by means of bombing American army positions in the 'Ain Al-Asad airbase west of Al-Anbar..."[10] It should be noted that during the week it was reported by Iraqi media that the Shi'ite militias had fired 50 to 85 Katyusha rockets at the base,[11] but details are not clear due to the minimal reporting of the incident, and it is not confirmed by American or Iraqi sources.  

Other options for retaliation that have been raised are clashes with American forces in the Iraq-Syria border region, and firing missiles at American and Israeli aircraft in the region's skies. The Iraqi Al-Ghad Press news agency reported, citing "a knowledgeable source" in the PMU, that "after Kata'ib Hizbullah obtained advanced and precise missiles, they decide to deploy them on the Iraq-Syria border in order to strike American and Israeli planes conducting ongoing attacks against the Islamic resistance factions and the PMU. Kata'ib Hizbullah's missiles, developed within and outside Iraq, can strike all types of aircraft with great accuracy and in any [weather] conditions."[12] Furthermore, Kata'ib Hizbullah military spokesman Al-Husseini announced that the militia had beefed up its presence and prepared its men for a conflict with American forces in the border region: "We cannot rely on the [Iraqi] government position with regard to the attacks [on us]. We will rely on ourselves, and we will formulate a reaction that is commensurate with the violations by the so-called international coalition, which is our enemy and the enemy of our people... Our forces have strengthened their military presence at the Iraq-Syria border in order to prevent the American forces from carrying out their plans."[13]

Also, Al-Husseini said in an interview with Al-Ghad Press: "Kata'ib Hizbullah has prepared a suitable response to the Israeli [attack] that [was carried out with] American assistance. Likewise, Kata'ib [Hizbullah] has prepared [its] men for clashes with the Americans on the Iraq-Syria border."[14]

 

[1] Youtube.com/watch?v=XJ_B9C_JjfM, June 24, 2018.

[2] Political.kataibhizbollah.com, June 19, 2018.

[3] Alebaa.tv, June 20, 6, 2018.

[4] Rudaw.net, June 21, 2018.

[5] Alalam.ir, June 22, 2018.

[6] Youtube.com/watch?v=XJ_B9C_JjfM, June 24, 2018.

[7] Kataibhizbollah.com, June 24, 2018.

[8] Sotaliraq.com, June 25, 2018.

[9] Baghdadnews.info, June 24, 2018.

[10] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London). June 20, 2018.

[11] See e.g.,  rudaw.net, June 19, 2018; sada-alkhaleej.com, June 25, 2018.

[12] Alghadpress.com, June 20, 2018.

[13] Yaqein.net, June 25, 2018.

[14] Alghadpress.com, June 6, 2018.