In bid to appease tensions, Iraq releases Iran-aligned commander

Security forces arrested Qasim Muslih, who commands the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq’s western Anbar province, on May 26.
Wednesday 09/06/2021
Qasim Muslih, a commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), waves after being released in Kerbala, Iraq June 9, 2021. (REUTERS)
Qasim Muslih, a commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), waves after being released in Kerbala, Iraq June 9, 2021. (REUTERS)

BAGHDAD – Iraq has released an Iran-aligned militia commander arrested in May on what the military said were terrorism-related charges after finding insufficient evidence against him, government and paramilitary officials said on Wednesday.

Security forces arrested Qasim Muslih, who commands the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq’s western Anbar province, on May 26.

The military said the charges were terrorism-related but did not give details.

The PMF is Iraq’s state paramilitary grouping that includes mostly Shia Muslim factions and is dominated by Iran-backed groups. Muslih is seen by Western and some Iraqi officials as being aligned with Iran.

Security sources said Muslih’s arrest was linked to attacks on a military base that hosts US forces.

Some media and analysts reported that he had been arrested over alleged links to the killing of peaceful pro-democracy activists.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has placed himself publicly in opposition to Iran-backed militias and parties and Muslih’s arrest was a major attempt to rein in their power.

It echoed another attempt to bring Iran-backed militias under control, when in June last year Kadhimi ordered the arrest of militants alleged to have fired rockets at US targets.

On both occasions, paramilitary groups deployed in force inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, where foreign embassies and government buildings are located, no prosecutions were made and those arrested were released.

Earlier this week, The Arab Weekly reported that Kadhimi may be intent on building better ties with figures who are close to pro-Iran Shia parties and militias.

The Iraqi premier does not have any partisan cover and is accused by pro-Iran Shia parties and militias of “working” and colluding with the United States. He has been trying to maintain calm, ease tensions and preserve security in the run-up to voting scheduled for this October, The Arab Weekly explained.

The presence of the PMF is now a fait accompli that is hardly in need of recognition by anyone, especially after the integration of the militias within state institutions, allowing them to benefit from state funds and a legal umbrella.