Iraqi forces raid HQ of Iran-backed militia, hand captured leaders over to US – reports
Iraqi security forces have raided a headquarters of Kataib Hezbollah and turned three captured leaders to the US military, officials in Baghdad said. The militia was at the heart of US-Iranian conflict earlier this year.
Special forces from the Counter Terrorism Service carried out the raid in the early hours of Friday local time, at a base south of Baghdad. One of the three militia leaders detained in the operation was an Iranian national, Reuters reporting citing an Iraqi government official. A number of rockets were also seized, the Iraqi security forces said.
According to @AP 13 members of the group have been arrested. Kadhimi has been under pressure to reign in Iranian proxies who have continued to attack US targets. It’s inconceivable that he would have launched tonight’s operation without the firm backing of the US.
— Ranj Alaaldin (@RanjAlaaldin) June 25, 2020
The raid appears to have been ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who took office last month over the vocal objections of Kataib Hezbollah and other Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias.
Kataib Hezbollah has been at the center of tensions between Washington and Tehran over the US presence in Iraq. The US has accused the Shia militia of repeated rocket attacks against the bases housing US personnel, going so far as to bomb Kataib positions on multiple occasions in reprisal.
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One such attack, in December 2019, prompted the militants to besiege the US Embassy in Baghdad. In response, US President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike against the PMF leadership on January 2 – killing Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in the process.
Iran responded by launching missiles against several US bases in Iraq, inflicting massive material damage but not killing any US or Iraqi troops. It later emerged that Washington and Baghdad received a warning ahead of the attacks.
Since then, US-Iranian tensions have simmered by never again escalated to the point of open warfare. Friday’s raid could ratchet them up again, however.
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