By Track Persia

June 29, 2018

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), or Hashid al-Shaabi, an umbrella grouping of mostly Iran-backed Shi’i militias in Iraq, on Sunday vowed that the Shi’i paramilitary would not remain silent about the alleged targeting of its forces in Syria, directly threatening the US.

“We tell the Americans that we as the Hashd, including all of its formations, we follow the Iraqi government. We won’t remain silent on hitting us,” Muhandis said in a news conference.

The June 17 airstrike in eastern Syria reportedly occurred on a post of the army of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the village of al-Hari, east of al-Boukamal on the banks of the Euphrates River near the border with Iraq.

Hashid has accused the US-led of killing 22 of its fighters in that airstrike. The remnants of the missile that killed the Hashid fighters are being analysed to determine the origin, according to Muhadis who called on all political parties, the government, and the parliament to “take a stance towards their sons who fell martyrs.”

“Remaining silent on this incident, saying that the position is outside of Iraqi territory, hence we have nothing to do with it is forfeiting the blood of our martyrs,” Muhandis added.

Muhadis indirectly threating the US for striking Hashd militia in Syria. (Track Persia)

Hashd militias, now officially part of the Iraqi defence apparatus, has demanded clarification from the US, saying such strikes have occurred repeatedly during the war against terrorism.

Iraqi officials have denounced the killings, while insisted the group was not operating under direct Iraqi government command. While the Iraqi military said none of its troops tasked with securing the Iraqi-Syrian border had been hit by the airstrike.

Muhandis, whose real name is Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, has been working alongside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) since the eighties and presently reports to Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, IRGC’s external wing. He is married to an Iranian. His goal is building an Islamic Republic in Iraq and form the Iraqi version of the Iranian Al-Quds forces, “From the beginning, the Islamic revolution was his motivation” according to Iraq’s former national security advisor Mofaq Al-Rubaiyee quoted by Wall Street Journal.

Muhandis himself does not deny his loyalty to Iran and their backing for his group. “The popular mobilization could not do such as big operations without big support from the Islamic Republic of Iran, above all Ali Khamenei who instructed the Al-Quds forces to back PMF and he is backing us by providing weapons, ammunition, consultations and planning,” Muhandis said in an interview with Al-Mustaqbal shortly after the liberation of Tikrit two years ago.

“He wants to build the Iranian model Islamic republic and he considers himself as representative of the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei,” said Mashaan al-Juburi, a Sunni MP as quoted by Wall Street Journal.

Al-Muhandis is on the US terror list and has a death sentence from a Kuwaiti court for his involvement in attacks on the US and French embassies in the 1980s in Kuwait and other terrorist activities. The Americans are believed to have attempted his capture but he had escaped to Iran. He joined the ruling Islamic Daawa party in the early 1970s and has occupied different political and military positions. He became an MP in the Iraqi parliament in 2005. In recent years he has risen in the ranks of Shiite militia groups especially after the collapse of the Iraqi army in 2014 in the face of the Islamic State (IS).

The United States has denied involvement in the strike. The Coalition spokesperson Sean Ryan denied the coalition conducted the operation. While Israel has also been implicated as a possible guilty party.

Most of those killed in the airstrike were also members of Kataib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, a component of Hashd , which is one of the Iraqi closest militia to Tehran and  is headed by Muhandis who is a former Badr Organisation member another powerful Iran-backed militia currently headed by Hadi al-Amiri, also the head of Hashd and an old ally of IRGC.

Kataib Hezbollah which is operating under Muhandis’s leadership is the most powerful Iran-backed militia in Iraq and has been accused of many criminal activities. There have been serious concerns among human rights groups, the UN and local Sunni tribes about the involvement of Hashd in human rights violations.

Last week, it clashed with the Iraqi police in the capital Baghdad. Three people are said to have been wounded.  According to policemen who have spoken to the press on condition of anonymity, said that the clashes erupted after a police patrol had stopped a car in the Palestine Street in Baghdad. Later on, a five-vehicle convoy of Hezbollah Brigades arrived at the scene and clashed with the police forces before fleeing the scene.”

“Iraqi security forces sealed off the headquarters of Iraq’s Hezbollah in Baghdad,” the source said. “Following negotiations between police and Hezbollah leaders, the latter agreed to hand over the fighters who had fired on the police patrol,” the source added.

Several Iraqi Shia militia groups, many of which also operate inside Syria, sent condolences and messages of support to the Hezbollah Brigades as well. Harakat al Nujaba, a militia also controlled by Iran’s IRGC, said that it and the Hezbollah Brigades were “partners in blood.” Asaib Ahl al Haq condemned “the cowardly act” and added that the Iraqi militia was in Syria at the behest of the Syrian government to “combat terrorism.” It also implored the Iraqi government “to take action” against the United States for the airstrikes. Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada, another IRGC-backed militia, condemned Israel, the United States, and the Iraqi government for the airstrikes.

Various Shia militias backed by Iran from around the Middle East have also sent their condolences or support to the US-designated terrorist group since the Sunday’s airstrike in Syria. Among the first to send their condolences and statements of support to the Iraqi group are several militias in Bahrain including Saraya al-Mokhtar, Saraya al Ashtar and Saraya Waad Allah. The latter which was behind a deadly attack on a bus near Manama last November proclaimed it was “ready to stand up in the face of the enemies for the defence of Islam.” Saraya al Ashtar, another group also espousing IRGC branding, also proclaimed its inclusion in the “axis of resistance” and unity with the Hezbollah Brigades in its statement.

All IRGC-backed militias in Iraq and the Middle East including the Hezbollah Brigades, consider themselves part of the “Axis of Resistance,” which refers to a network of state and non-state actors led by Iran that operates to meet Iran’s agenda in the region. IRGC has been, and still is, involved in terrorist activities in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region. It is responsible for horrific war crimes in Syria and supports proxies across the Middle East.

Iran’s influence in Iraq is very visible in the scene of the government formation negotiations among Iraqi political players in aftermath of the result of May general elections, that is reflected by its manoeuvring to form a broad Shi’i coalition between the Shi’i cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s bloc which scooped the highest number of seats and the Hashid’s bloc of al-Fatih under Hadi al-Amiri who came the second at the May poll. The coalition came as a blow to the Iraqis who viewed Sadr as a nationalist who could face Iran’s destructive role in Iraq.


About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.