Powerful pro-Iran militia leader in Iraq slams Israel, US

He accused Israel of violating the sovereignty of Lebanon and said he has paid close attention to tensions with Hezbollah and the recent incident on Mount Dov, which he calls Sheba Farms.

A military vehicle of members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Iraqi Border Guards are seen on the Iraqi side of Mandali border crossing between Iraq and Iran, in Mandali, Iraq July 11, 2020.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A military vehicle of members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Iraqi Border Guards are seen on the Iraqi side of Mandali border crossing between Iraq and Iran, in Mandali, Iraq July 11, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Falih al-Fayyadh, the head of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in Iraq, slammed Israel and the US in an interview this week with Al-Mayadeen news, an outlet that is perceived as pro-Iran and pro-Hezbollah. He accused Israel of violating the sovereignty of Lebanon and said he has paid close attention to tensions with Hezbollah and the recent incident on Mount Dov, which he calls Sheba Farms. He also indicated US forces should leave Iraq and that Iraq-Iran relations were the best in history.
Fayyadh is a former National Security Advisor in Iraq who played a key role in relations with the Assad regime in Syria since 2011, and has since become the key figure running a massive group of pro-Iranian militias that were gathered together in 2014 to fight ISIS.
Among the groups are the Badr Organization, Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. As chairman of the PMU he potentially unites the most important paramilitary units linked to Iran, with the government of Baghdad and also with political parties that are linked to the militias. His goal is to make sure the PMU fully integrates as an official force in Iraq’s system and continues to play a larger role controlling Iraq.
Fayyadh does not give major interviews often so his comments this week are of importance. They come after Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited Iran and after controversy over protesters being killed in Baghdad as well as rocket attacks on US forces in Iraq. Iran and Kataib Hezbollah are allegedly behind the rocket attacks. The US carried out airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah and its leader between December and March.
Iran’s Tasnim media picked up his comments and emphasized his critique of the US and Israel. Fayyadh looks a bit like Luca Brasi from The Godfather, a meaty large man with a grim face. He doesn’t exude any sort of nimble or martial qualities. Born in the 1950s, he joins a generation of Iraqis whose formative young years were during Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime and who rose out of that era to control Iraq after 2003, often with intentions of turning Iraq into an Iranian ally or satellite state.
Fayyadh’s main point when speaking to Al-Mayadeen was to stress that the PMU played a key role in defeating ISIS. He claimed that today there are some in Iraq who want to reduce the role of the PMU and its militias. The PMU-linked groups are accused of killing protesters, running secret prisons, having their own warehouses of weapons, controlling smuggling at the border, smuggling Iranian ballistic missiles, threatening foreigners, kidnapping, corruption, ethnic cleansing, harassment of Christian minorities in Nineveh Plains, extrajudicial killings and firing rockets illegally at US forces. The Iraqi counter-terrorism forces tried to detain several members of the PMU in June but they were released and the PMU-linked members burned Iraq’s Prime Minister’s image.
The PMU leader says that the PMU is seeking more integration into the Iraqi system, and that anyone who opposes it wants to weaken Iraq and make Iraq submit to America’s demands. “Any party, whether American or others, who wants to control Iraq is seeking to weaken the PMU as an entity.” He noted that within the PMU there are territorial brigades linked to various holy shrines. These groups, often loyal to Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq, have wanted to be under Defense Ministry control. Fayyadh said he understands this issue and is working on the bureaucracy to fix it.
Fayyadh praised Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, former deputy head of the PMU who was killed by the US in January. He also said that Iraq is not afraid of peaceful protests but claimed the protesters may be infiltrated by outside agendas. “National unity in Iraq is growing, sectarianism cannot be raised again,” he claimed. However, most PMU militias are openly sectarian.
At the end of his interview he said that Iraq-Syrian ties are historic and important. He also said that Iraq-Iran relations are increasing as they share common interests. “Iraq is a bridge to all.” He then slammed Israel for what he said were its attacks on Arab countries and violation of Lebanese sovereignty. He said the “Israeli occupation” is today filled with anxiety.
Many groups linked to the PMU are also allied with Hezbollah in Lebanon. For instance Qais Khazali of Asaib Ahl al-Haq traveled to southern Lebanon in 2017 to look over Israel and give support to Hezbollah. Hezbollah sent an official to Iraq as well to aid the PMU.
The Iraqi group is now a key element in Iran’s role in the region via the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Some of its units have fought in Syria and have allegedly trafficked Iranian munitions via Syria to Hezbollah. In the summer of 2018 an airstrike destroyed the headquarters of Kataib Hezbollah in Albukamal,Syria, on the Iraqi border.
Fayyadh’s comments show he pays close attention to Israel and that he is moving slowly to cement the PMU’s role and control.