Iraq: 14 Militia Members Under Investigation After Base Raid | Iraq News

Iraqi military authorities have confirmed that elite forces have detained 14 members of the militia who remain in custody amid an ongoing investigation.

Friday’s statement from the Iraqi Joint Operations Command came hours after sources said that Counterterrorism The Service (CTS) had raided a base in southern Baghdad of Kataib Hezbollah (KH), an Iranian-backed group that the United States has accused of attacking bases that host American troops and other diplomatic interests in Iraq.

In an apparent dismissal of previous claims that the detainees had been released, the statement said the interior ministry and security services formed a special investigative committee after the arrest of the 14 people.

A high-level security source, who wished to remain anonymous, also told Al Jazeera “an investigation was still ongoing” and that “no one has been released from among the detainees.”

According to the statement, an arrest warrant was issued after Iraqi authorities received information about a possible attack on the Green Zone, a heavily fortified area in central Baghdad that houses government buildings and foreign missions.

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The raid aimed to prevent an imminent attack and also resulted in the seizure of several rockets and two launching pads that were allegedly previously used in attacks against military and diplomatic interests, According to the statement.

Dozens of rocket attacks in recent months have targeted American interests in Iraq, including the United States’ embassy in the Green Zone and military bases that host American soldiers. Six have taken place in the past two weeks alone.

Although the joint command did not mention which group the detainees belonged to, sources told Al Jazeera that they were members of KH, one of the groups under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) or Hashd al-Shaabi.

Another security source said the operation had targeted KH, as well as members of the newly formed militias, including Ashab Ahl al-Kahf, Usbat al-Tha’ireen and Jund Soleimani. In a strongly worded statement early Friday, Jund Soleimani he called on “the mujahideen” to continue their resistance and achieve victory.

A third security source told Al Jazeera that one of the detainees was a foreigner, possibly an Iranian citizen, and that the CTS blamed the group for attacking the Green Zone and Baghdad airport with Katyusha rockets.

A source from the PMF leadership denied the claims to Al Jazeera, saying that a CTS raid on a PMF base in southern Baghdad was based on “false” information about the presence of “terrorists”.

The Kataib Hezbollah Iraqi militia holds the image of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani as they meet before the funeral of Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad.

The United States accused Kataib Hezbollah of attacking military bases that host US troops in Iraq [File: Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters]

Liberation negotiations

While the exact location of the detainees remains unclear, Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi analyst with sources close to the Iraqi government, told Al Jazeera that “the defendants were transferred from a CTS-owned prison to a center detention under the control of all -Hashd in northeast Baghdad. “

He also said that negotiations led by PMF leaders and members of the powerful Iran-backed Fateh coalition were continuing, but have so far failed to secure the release of the accused.

Earlier on Friday, reports circulated that Fateh’s leader Hadi al-Ameri had intervened on behalf of the detainees to negotiate their release.

Later in the day, former Iraqi Prime Minister and leader of the Iran-backed State of Law Coalition, Nouri al-Maliki, released a statement on Twitter condemning the “assault” of PMF members calling for self-control and respect. and preservation of the PMF and the CTS alike. He also offered to mediate.

Initial statements by several PMF leaders, including KH spokesman Mohamed Mohie, had said the detainees were released shortly after their arrest on Thursday.

“The detained members of the Hashd have been released … [and] he returned to his bases. The incident was quickly resolved, “he told Al Jazeera on Friday morning.

Commenting on these statements, Tallha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Institute for Strategy and Security, said the PMF’s statements appeared to have been a “face-saving measure” after suspected KH members flooded on Thursday at night the streets in and around the Green Zone in vans to demand the release of the detainees.

Videos that circulated widely on social media showed that these people, some of whom appeared to be armed, eventually pulled out. Initial reports suggested that a group had besieged a CTS building within the Green Zone, but were later denied.

While estimating that the 14 will likely be released soon, Abdulrazaq told Al Jazeera that his arrest was a message from new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to militia groups and to the United States.

“The measure showed that al-Kadhimi was trying to exercise control, but with the backing of the United States. He is indebted to these powers in Parliament and to the good favor of the United States and Iran, without which he would never have been in power in the first place, “said Abdulrazaq.

“Al-Kadhimi has since promised to curb these different factions,” he explained, adding that the move was also an attempt by Kadhimi to “show the United States that it wants to play ball … [and] you’ll want to see something in return. “

An Iraqi delegation, including al-Kadhimi, is scheduled to travel to Washington, DC next month to resume high-level talks with US leaders.

In the first round of talks, which began on June 11, the two sides agreed in a joint statement to reduce the number of US troops in Iraq in the coming months.

Independent Iraqi analyst Sajad Jiyad told Al Jazeera that “the raid was proof of Kadhimi’s resolve to confront rogue actors and what reaction the government can expect if it follows that course.”

“Clearly, conflict is possible and success is not guaranteed, so Kadhimi has to be careful about his next steps,” said Jiyad.

Situation time

Meanwhile, tensions remained high in Baghdad on Friday, with leaders of pro-Iran armed groups condemning the events of the previous night, while others called for the scale to be reduced.

In a statement on Twitter, Nasr al-Shimmari, deputy secretary-general of the pro-Iran group Harakat al-Nujabaa, warned that attacking the PMF would cost enormously for the country’s internal stability.

“We warn against any attempt to shoot [opposing] sides to internal conflict during these difficult times. Such attempts will definitely fail. “

In a statement shared on Telegram, KH leader Abu Ali al-Askari said the raid and arrests were an attempt by “this monster al-Kadhimi” to hide its involvement in the “criminal murder of two martyrs and their comrades. “

His words referred to the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the deputy director of Hashd Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who were killed in a US drone attack at Baghdad airport on January 3.

In the incident, mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran nearly collapsed into a full-blown regional conflict.