January 1, 2020
The US bombings of Kataib Hezbollah bases in Iraq and Syria have been criticized by Iran, Russia, and Iraq itself, which has said it would review its relationship with Washington.
Sunday’s bombing targeted Kataib Hezbollah bases including weapons arsenals and command and control locations, killing 27 people, according to local media reports.
The Pentagon said it was in response to repeated attacks by Kataib Hezbollah on US coalition forces based in Iraq, the latest of which was on Friday, when Kataib Hezbollah fired 30 rockets at a US base in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing an American contractor.
Iraq’s National Security Council said the US bombing had “pushed Iraq to review its relationship” with Washington to “preserve the country’s sovereignty and security and protect the souls of its sons”.
“The Iraqi government condemns this act and considers it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” the council said in a statement after meeting on Monday.
However, the situation on the ground in Iraq is complex. Since the collapse of ISIS’s so-called caliphate in 2017, the country has been over-run with militia groups backed by Iran, led by people who are designated as terrorists by Western powers.
Kataib Hezbollah is commanded by Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, who is also the commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq. He is designated as a terrorist by the United States and in this two-year-old video, is shown pledging allegiance to General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force.
In the video interview, al-Mohandes is asked: “Whom do you like the most among the Iranians?” “Well, the Supreme Leader is not only Iranian, he belongs to everyone,” comes the reply.
He is then asked, apart from the Supreme Leader, which Iranian does he like, and he replies: “Qassem Soleimani.”
Soleimani is regarded as Iran’s principal military strategist and is designated as a terrorist by the United States, the European Union, and Switzerland.
Asked the reason for his liking Soleimani, al-Mohandes says, smiling: “I don’t know. There are a lot of reasons.”
Asked further to explain his relationship with Soleimani, al-Mohandes replies: “It’s the relationship of a soldier.”
When the reporter expresses his surprise, al-Mohandes affirms what he said and says: “I’m proud of it.”
Al-Mohandes is also a senior commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which mostly consists of Iranian-backed Shia militias that were integrated into Iraq’s armed forces. The Popular Mobilization Forces bolstered Iraq’s security forces during their battle to retake a third of the country from ISIS insurgents and were later folded into Iraq’s official security structure.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps trains some of the Iraqi militias, including Kataib Hezbollah.