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February 26, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9200

On Telegram, Iran-Backed Militias In Iraq React To U.S. Airstrike On Its Sites In Syria: Airstrike Took Place Inside Iraqi Borders, Against 'Legitimate' Iraqi Forces, Iraqi Government 'Collaborated' In Planning

February 26, 2021
Iran, Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 9200

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

On February 26, 2021, the U.S. military carried out airstrikes authorized by President Joe Biden against facilities belonging to Iraqi militias, including Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata'ib Sayyid Al-Shuhada, in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border. The Pentagon said in a statement that the airstrikes were in response to rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.[1]

Shortly after the airstrikes were reported, Telegram channels affiliated with these Iran-backed militias in Iraq reacted with a series of posts downplaying the impact caused by the airstrikes.

The Sabereen News Telegram channel wrote about the news first, claiming that "the situation at the border with Syria is secure, unlike what some news agency are reporting."[2]

Later the channel quoted "sources affiliated with the aerial resistance [factions] as saying that fighters were present prior to the attacks and that they took all necessary safety measures."

It added that the airstrikes targeted an empty building belonging to a resistance faction and that one fighter was killed while others were lightly wounded: "The airstrike targeted an uninhabited structure (empty) near a site that belongs to one of the resistance factions on the borderline on the Syrian side, which led to the death of one martyr and some were lightly wounded," said the post, mocking what news agencies are reporting on the impact of the airstrikes as "Rice and stew [Iraqi slang for 'meaningless']."

The post also included a hashtag that reads: "Cheenko," a word in Iraqi dialect used to refer to a metal frame of a building.

The channel announced in another post that the name of the fighter killed in the airstrike was Said Rahi Salam Zayed and that he was from the city of Hilla in Babil province.

It also explained that Zayed had been deployed at a border checkpoint to stop the infiltration of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters through the Syrian border, "yet he was killed by the evil American crow yesterday near Al-Qa'im," Anbar. A photo of the fighter was shared by the channel, which also noted that two fighters had been wounded.

Sabereen News shared another photo with an English caption giving information on Zayed's personal life.

The channel's tone changed in the following posts as it described the airstrike as a "crime that reflects American recklessness when it comes to the Iraqi people's rights to defend their borders." It also criticized the Iraqi government and politicians for not condemning the airstrikes.

Sabereen News detailed the type of U.S. aircrafts used in the strikes and added that six of the seven targets were evacuated after the militias spotted U.S. reconnaissance aircraft scoping out the area before the attack.

The channel highlighted that Iraqi intelligence, which it accused of working as "agents" for the U.S., surveyed the sites the day before, adding that they were disguised as "shepherds." It cited the Pentagon statement, which said that the airstrikes were coordinated with U.S. partners, as proof of its accusation of Iraqi intelligence collaboration with the U.S. military on the attack.

It posted alleged photos of one of the "empty structures" that had been struck in Al-Qa'im.

 

"The lack of condemnation from the Iraqi political class and the forces that claim to represent the state confirms that these parties are hired by the Americans. It confirms their involvement in shedding the blood of the Iraqi people," said the channel in a lengthy post.

It condemned the Iraqi government and politicians for remaining silent even though the airstrike targeted "authorized Iraqi forces that were carrying out its duty to defend the Iraqi lands by monitoring the borders with Syria... No statement, no comment, or even a whisper regarding the assault, the crime, so disgraceful and disrespectful for the blood of the resistance fighters."

The channel later shared a poster expressing an intention to retaliate against U.S. targets. It depicted U.S. soldiers being shot, carrying fallen soldiers, and kneeling among graves and coffins. An Iraqi fighter holds his helmet, which bears the phrase "Oh Zainab," referring to Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter whom Shi'ites widely cherish. 

Another poster shows a rocket being fired and American soldiers carrying a casket. Text reads: "Our [Iranian-made] Ashtar rockets will target you at a time of our choosing."

The channel shared photos of the funeral that KH held for its fighter who was killed in the airstrikes.

 

In an attempt to portray the U.S. airstrike as targeting an Iraqi security force, rather than a militia, the channel emphasized three points.

The first point was that the fighter killed was a member of the Iraqi government's authorized Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The second point was that the U.S. airstrike had been conducted against an Iraqi target inside Iraq. The third point is that the Iraqi government was involved in planning the airstrikes with the U.S. military.

Following this narrative, Sabereen News said that the "martyr" was a member of the 46th Corps of the PMU, which comprises KH fighters deployed in Anbar province. The channel noted that the U.S. airstrikes targeted the Iraqi side of the border, not the Syrian one, contradicting an earlier statement that the strikes had been on the Syrian side of the border.

The channel shared a short video that it said showed the targeted site, though the video showed only a concrete wall. The caption posted with the video explained that the location was in Anbar near the Syrian border: "It was targeted by the Americans with the cooperation of the disloyal government of [Mustafa] Al-Khadhimi."

The channel shared a poster threatening to cut off the ears of Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Khadhimi. The caption reiterated previous statements by Asa'ib Ahal Al-Haq Secretary General Qais Al-Khazali and KH senior commander Abu Ali Al-Askari that Al-Khadhimi had been behind the passing of intelligence to the Americans that facilitated the killing of IRGC Qassim Soleimani and PMU deputy commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.

Tura News, another Telegram channel affiliated with Iran-backed militias in Iraq, shared a statement issued by KH to commemorate the death of KH fighter Rahi Zayed, who was killed in the attack.[3]

In its statement, KH accused the UAE and Saudi Arabia of inciting and funding the U.S. airstrikes against the Iraqi people.

"The American enemy continues to commit its crimes of killing the protectors of the nation and the honorable people of the country [Iraq], unrestrained from shedding innocent blood as long as payment of the murder keeps coming from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates."

Kaf, a Telegram channel affiliated with KH, shared a poster featuring Zayed.[4]

The three Telegram channels mentioned above shared a tweet by Abu Alaa' Al Wal'ie, the Secretary General of Kata'ib Sayed Al-Shuhada', whom the airstrikes in Syria targeted: "We are not surprised by the U.S. aggression on the sites that belong to our resistance factions. This is an expected matter as we are engaged in a war to liberate our lands from an occupation that those who unpatriotically say does not exist. The strange thing is that the noise uttered by [our] Foreign Minister [Fuad Hussein] and his blunt insult to the resistance and his questioning to its honorable role in defending the homeland. It is obvious that the problem with those is not related to the fact that they do not belong to Iraq only, but also because they do not read history."[5]

On February 25, prior to the U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said in an interview with a local television station commenting on rocket attacks that target U.S. forces in Iraq that "there is no resistance in Iraq, they are resisting the Iraqi government, they are terrorists... those who are firing rockets are terrorists."[6] 

 

[1] Defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/2516530/us-conducts-defensive-airstrikes-against-iranian-backed-militia-in-syria, February 25, 2021.

[2] Telegram, Sabreen News, February 25, 2021.

[3] Telegram, Tura News, February 25, 2021.

[4] Telegram, Centerkaf, February 25, 2021.

[5] Twitter.com, Aboalaa_alwalae, February 25, 2021.

[6] Alarabiya.net, February 25, 2021.

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