By Ahmad Rafat
On May 26, Iraqi security forces arrested Qassim Mahmoud Musleh, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) military commander for the western province of Al Anbar, in Baghdad, on terrorism charges.
Sabah al-Wafi, a senior military commander of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), a powerful Shia militia group operating under the PMF umbrella, escaped arrest.
The PMF, also known as the People’s Mobilization Committee (PMC) and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization comprising 40 militia groups, primarily Shia Muslim, but also includes Sunni Muslim, Christian, and Yazidi groups.
The arrest of Qassim Mahmoud Musleh and efforts to capture Sabah al-Wafi prompted PMF militias, operating under the auspices of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF), to march in the streets of Baghdad and several cities in southern Iraq, to force the government of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to resign.
While PMF forces occupied parts of the Green Zone in Baghdad, Abu Fadak, a senior commander of the Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) and Qais Khazali, the leader of AAH, ordered the arrest of several senior officers in the Iraqi military and security forces. However, the order was not carried out because the coup failed.
The head of the Iraqi Tribal Council, Sheikh Thaber al-Bayati, told Kayhan Life: “The Islamic Republic cannot accept an independent Iraqi government that puts the interests of the country ahead of Tehran’s objectives. Tehran has been unhappy with many of Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi’s policies and actions. It uses militia groups under its control to agitate the situation since it cannot openly express its dismay and advocate the removal of Mr. Al-Kadhimi. It blames Iraqi people for the unrest instead.”
A source in the Iraqi security forces, who spoke to Kayhan Life on the condition of anonymity, said: “Although the arrest of Qassim Mahmoud Musleh was the principal reason for the PMF forces to march in the street hoping to force the resignation of Prime Minister Kadhimi, they fear even more any cooperation between the Iraqi security forces and U.S. military on disarming Shia militia groups that operate outside the law.”
The source referenced a plan submitted to the White House by the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) on confronting Iran-backed militias in Iraq, which President Joe Biden must approve. Kayhan Life understands the plan calls for disarming those groups that have carried out missile and drone attacks on Erbil and Baghdad airports and several military bases, including the Al Asad Airbase, in the past few months.
Any of these plans could deliver a severe blow to the capabilities of the Iranian military and militia forces under its control and diminish their activities significantly. These groups have carried out some 30 attacks on military bases in Iraq since Joe Biden took office in January.
Since the start of nationwide protests in 2019, the militias have assassinated at least 70 journalists and rights activists. They have also kidnapped 42 people whose whereabouts and fates are unknown. Iraqi rights activists believe that some of these hostages are kept in a secret prison in Jurf al-Nasr, 60 kilometers southwest of Baghdad. The prison is reportedly under the control of PMF forces.
These groups assassinated Ihab Al Wazni, an Iraqi rights activist, in front of his house in April. A few days later, they also made a failed attempt on the life of Ahmad Hassan, a journalist, by shooting him in the head. Mr. Hassan is still in critical condition in the hospital.
The family of Mr. Al Wazni released an audio recording recently in which Qassim Mahmoud Musleh could reportedly be heard threatening Al Wazni.
“I will kill you even if I have only one day to live,” the voice on the tape reportedly said.
“All the assassinations in Iraq are carried out on orders from the IRGC-QF,” Hatem Al-Falah, an Iraqi analyst, said. “In the past, the force tolerated no opposition to its objectives in Iraq. It is even more adamant now about silencing opposition voices, given the Iraqi government’s refusal to support its activities.”
“It is trying to sow the seeds of fear and terror in this society,” He added.