Iranian-backed militias play political party by day, fighters by night
They know that an American drone with precision guided missiles could turn them into an inferno the way Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed on January 3 in a US drone strike. Kataib Hezbollah denied its involvement, claiming that, while the attack was justified, “it wasn’t us.”
The Iranian-backed militias, called Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Shaabi are a group of some 100,000 men who joined to fight ISIS after a fatwa by Ayatollah Sistani in 2014 encouraged Shi’ites to sign up. Many of these militias already existed in another form, such as Hadi al-Amiri’s Badr Organization, Kataib Hezbollah which is closely linked to Iran’s IRGC, and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which had once been more closely linked to Muqtada al-Sadr.
Muhandis and Amiri were close friends and allies and had grown up in the IRGC fighting alongside Iran against Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. In the 2000s they turned their guns on the US and then on Sunni extremists. By 2017 they had become an official paramilitary force as the PMU.
But things began to change in May 2019. The PMU’s factions had already expressed support for removing the US from Iraq. Qais Khazali even went to Lebanon and said the PMU would fight Israel. Kataib Hezbollah sent units to Syria. The US responded by sanctioning one of the group called Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba and then sanctioning Khazali specifically in December 2019. Meanwhile, Iran-US tensions rose and Tehran ordered some PMU units to fire rockets at US bases and the US embassy compound in Baghdad.
The US alleges that Kataib Hezbollah was closely involved in an attack that killed a US contractor on December 27. The US accused Iran of ordered up to 12 attacks in the fall of 2019. The response was shocking to the PMU: The US killed dozens of Kataib Hezbollah members and took out Muhandis as he met IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.
Read more at: JPost
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