Iran-Backed group: We’ll avenge our casualties by cleansing Iraq of US presence

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Feb 23, 2018
Iran-Backed group: We’ll avenge our casualties by cleansing Iraq of US presence

The secretary-general of Harakat al-Nujaba, an Iraqi militia group with close ties with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), has said that the group will avenge the blood of Iraqi paramilitary forces recently killed in the Iraqi province of Kirkuk by “cleansing” Iraq of the American presence, Sot al-Iraq, an outlet in Arabic, reported. The warning came after 27 members of the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) were killed in the village of al-Saadouniya. Although ISIS militants claimed responsibility for the attack, Akram al-Kaabi, the head of the Nujaba movement, said it will hold the United States responsible for the killing. He said the paramilitary fighters were “betrayed by the terrorist forces of the American Daesh [ISIS] and its accomplices in Hawaija.” He continued: “We stress our relentless efforts to purge all Iraqi soil of any American presence and dormant cells of terrorism, which we have long warned of their presence under the protection of the United States with different names and labels.” The militia commander also accused Israel of aiding terrorists in Iraq.

Comment: It is not the first time that Harakat al-Nujaba blames the US military for the death of PMF fighters in Iraq and Syria. The Iranian-sponsored group often makes false allegations against the US military to fuel anti-Americanism in the country.

In late January, Kaabi alleged that the US military had targeted the group’s militiamen  in Iraq. “The American forces attacked this movement’s forces in the region of al-Baghdadi in Anbar Province,” Iranian and Lebanese outlets quoted Kaabi as saying. “By targeting the forces of this movement, the US forces aim to continue the Americans’ destructive designs,” the militia commander added. Kaabi, who was designated by the US Treasury in 2008, for fueling violence in Iraq, accused the US military forces stationed in Iraq of destabilizing the country and aiding terrorists. A similar claim by Kaabi was debunked by US and Iraqi officials last year.

Now that ISIS in Iraq and Syria is military defeated, Nujaba and other Iran-linked groups have dialed up propaganda against the US forces. Kaabi recently threatened to attack American troops in Iraq and the broader region in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement about the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “Trump’s foolish decision to make Jerusalem the Zionist capital will spark a major uprising to excise this entity (Israel) from the body of the Islamic nation, and is a legitimate justification to target American troops,” Kaabi said according to a statement published on Nujaba’s website.

In an interview with the Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV on December 1, Kaabi also said that his forces would fight against US troops again if they stay in Iraq after the ISIS battle is over. “If the Americans intend to reoccupy Iraq, we will fight them again. And if they commit a stupid mistake in Syria or Iraq against the Nujaba and resistance forces, we will deal a crushing blow to them and will target all their interests in the region. If the Syrian and Iraqi governments decide to confront America, we will proudly stand by their side.”

Kaabi also has close relations with the Lebanese Hezbollah and other Shiite leaders from across the region. He travels frequently to Iran and Lebanon to meet high-ranking Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah. Earlier this month, he traveled to Beirut to voice solidarity with Hezbollah and pledged to stand with the “axis of resistance” in any future wars with Israel. “We, at the axis of resistance, will mobilize forces against Israel at any place. And until all threats are removed, the Zionist regime [Israel] is destroyed and the sacred Quds [Jerusalem] is completely liberated, we will not take a break and will fight alongside the Syrian Army and the resistance fighters in all battles against the aggressors.”

Last March, the Nujaba movement announced the creation of a new brigade to seize the Golan Heights – claiming that “latest victories” against the Islamic State and Sunni rebels in Iraq and Syria have allowed the group and its allies to focus on Israel. Leaders of the group claimed that members of the new brigade are highly-trained, well-equipped and capable of fighting the Jewish state. “Israel is weaker than a spider web. Islamic resistance is capable of confronting the axis of evil and annihilating the occupying Zionist regime,” Kaabi told Lebanon-based Arabic-language al-Mayadeen news network.

Harakat al-Nujaba – also known as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba – is a prominent Iraqi sectarian group that operates both in Iraq and Syria under the leadership of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. It has been fighting in Syria since 2013. Kaabi has pledged allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The IRGC uses the Nujaba group not just to fight the Islamic State, but also as a pressure tool against the Baghdad government, regional countries, and the United States.