Daring raid by Iraqi forces on Katai’b Hezbollah reflects Kadhimi’s resolve

Iran-backed militia said to be behind missile strikes on “Green Zone”.
Friday 26/06/2020
Iraqi Counterterrorism forces stand guard in front of the US Embassy in the capital Baghdad, last January. (AFP)
Iraqi Counterterrorism forces stand guard in front of the US Embassy in the capital Baghdad, last January. (AFP)

BAGHDAD--In a daring operation reflecting Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s determination to curtail the activities of armed militias, Iraqi security forces arrested more than a dozen pro-Iran fighters overnight, in their first raid against groups accused of anti-US rocket attacks, Iraqi officials said early Friday.

Government sources told DPA news agency the operation “aims at enforcing security, tracking armed groups that fuel violence and occasionally strike at official buildings.”

Elite fighters from the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) raided a headquarters in southern Baghdad used by Katai’b Hezbollah, a pro-Iran faction also identified as Brigade 45 of the Hashed al-Shaabi military force.

“Based on intelligence information, a CTS unit raided a base used by Brigade 45, seizing three rocket launchers and arresting 13 fighters,” one of the officials said.

Military commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed last January in a US drone stroke.  (DPA)
Military commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed last January in a US drone stroke.  (DPA)

Official sources told DPA that during the raid on Katai’b Hezbollah’s headquarters south of Baghdad, STC forces “arrested about 50 party members and seized a number of Katyusha missile launchers.”

Since October, nearly three dozen attacks have targeted American interests in Iraq, including a range of military bases, the US Embassy in Baghdad and US oil companies. Iraqi, US and UK military personnel were killed during the attacks.

The US has blamed Katai’b Hezbollah for the attacks and retaliated twice, in both cases after rockets killed US military personnel stationed at Iraqi bases.

Washington has pressured Baghdad to take tougher action against the group, and Thursday’s late-night raid is the first of its kind.

Kataeb Hezbollah (KH) is a radical faction within the Hashed al-Shaabi, a network of armed groups that have been integrated into the Iraqi security forces.

The hardline KH faction was founded by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy head of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network, who was killed alongside top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad, January 3.

In commemoration of the killings, Katai’b Hezbollah erected mock gallows of US President Donald Trump at the entrances to the massive eastern district of Sadr City last February. It also said the deaths “will not go unpunished.”

Katai’b Hezbollah militiamen are known to be close to Iran and violently opposed to the US presence in the region.

The Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service was set up by US occupation forces following the 2003 invasion that toppled former President Saddam Hussein and is largely seen as a force friendly to Washington. But it is perceived as a disciplined strike force committed to carrying out Kadhimi’s agenda.

A file picture shows members of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service taking position as part of a deployment in Baghdad. (AFP)
A file picture shows members of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service taking position as part of a deployment in Baghdad. (AFP)

The STC’s commander, Abdulwahab al-Saadi, was appointed last month by the prime minister.

Under Kadhimi, Iraq and the US launched a strategic dialogue earlier this month to reset the bilateral relationship. Threats by Iran-backed local militias to US interests in Iraq were part of the dialogue held in Baghdad.

The start of the talks coincided with a significant spike in rocket attacks, with six incidents targeting American installations over the course of two weeks.

Kadhimi has pledged to fight the armed militia that threaten security and infringe upon the prerogatives of the Iraqi  state. He has also said threats to his life will not deter him from the pursuit of his goals.