Iranian-backed militias in Iraq accuse Israel of 'military operations'

Two of Iraq’s most powerful Iranian-backed militias accused Israel and the US of carrying out military overflights of Iraq and have demanded the US leave the country.

A U.S. F-16 fighter jet is seen on the tarmac if a military base in Balad, Iraq, July 20, 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)
A U.S. F-16 fighter jet is seen on the tarmac if a military base in Balad, Iraq, July 20, 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI)
Two of Iraq’s most powerful Iranian-backed militias have accused Israel and the US of carrying out military overflights of Iraq and demanded the US leave the country.
Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Jafar Husseini accused Israeli warplanes of “launching military operations in Iraq,” and Hadi al-Amiri of the Badr Organization made similar comments to Al-Ahad TV on Tuesday.
The deluge of comments came after members of Kataib Hezbollah were detained by Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service last week and then released. The detainees celebrated by burning US and Israeli flags and trampling photos of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi.
Akram al-Kaabi of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, another Iranian-backed group, also claimed that “six to eight American aircraft were in the sky of Iraq, indicating that Israeli warplanes carried out military operations on Iraqi soil,” Rudaw media reported. This quote came from Al-Mayadeen, but a search of the pan-Arabist television channel did not turn up the exact quote, the report said.
Overall, the messages are the same from Kataib Hezbollah, Badr and other groups in Iraq: They want the US to leave and claim that America and Israel work together. The logic behind these comments was that these Iranian-backed groups say Iraqi airspace is controlled by the US and that “American and Israeli airplanes roam the Iraqi airspace daily without informing the government.”
In fact, Iraq’s government did seek to restrict the use of its airspace in August 2019. In September, Iraq’s former prime minister blamed Israel for airstrikes in the country.
The US has sanctioned many of these pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. These groups are all part of the Popular Mobilization Units, a 150,000-strong group of armed brigades that fought ISIS. Many of them have roots in the insurgency against the US in 2005; some have roots going back to the 1980s when some Shi’ite Iraqis joined the Iranian IRGC to fight Saddam Hussein.
Badr, the organization Hadi al-Amiri runs, has its origins back then. Amiri runs the second-largest political party in Iraq, the Fatah Alliance, so he is both a politician and a key leader of a militia.
It appears Amiri, Kaabi and Husseini coordinated their messages so that these three groups appear to be acting in unison. After the US killed IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani in January 2020, these militias appeared in disarray.
For instance, the US killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of Kataib Hezbollah and deputy head of the PMU. But now the recent tensions with the government have unified these groups, and they want to blame Israel.
Amiri is now pushing hard to get US troops to leave Iraq. Washington and Baghdad had been holding a strategic dialogue recently about how the US-led anti-ISIS coalition might continue operations.
In April, Kaabi accused Israel of working with America in the US Embassy in Iraq. In November 2017, he said his militia would work with Palestinian groups and Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel. Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais Khazali, another pro-Iranian Iraqi militia leader, went to southern Lebanon in 2017 and vowed to fight alongside Hezbollah against Israel.
These Iranian-backed groups in Iraq see themselves as part of the “axis of resistance” and routinely engage in pro-Iran propaganda, such as Quds (Jerusalem) Day. They trample and burn Israeli flags and spread conspiracies about Israel.
They are increasingly linked to Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen as part of Iran’s broader regional strategy. They have all vowed to remove the US from Iraq.