Iraq’s pro-Iranian Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba paramilitary group has threatened the US. In a tweet showing a US armored vehicle at night, the group claimed that “we are closer than you think.” The leader of Nujaba, Akram al-Kaabi, has said the countdown to achieve Iraq’s “sovereignty” has begun, a reference to removing US forces. He also showed an image of US Reaper and Predator drone flight paths.
The US sanctioned Nujaba in March of last year, part of a series of sanctions against Iran’s IRGC and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. For instance, Qais Khazali, the leader of another Iraqi paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, was also sanctioned in December. These militias have tens of thousands of members and are linked to Iran. They fought ISIS, helped form the Popular Mobilization Units, and are now an official arm of the Iraqi security forces. However, they have their own munitions warehouses, and some are directly loyal to Iran’s leadership.
The US killed Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani on January 3. Soleimani helped organize these militias in Iraq, and Muhandis was deputy commander of the PMU, which is also called the Hashd al-Sha’abi, and which consists mostly of Shi’ites.
In the recent tweet by Nasral Shammari, spokesman of the group, a US armored vehicle that appears to be a Stryker is seen on night vision. Nujaba has written text on the photo they claim was taken on February 2. The caption and tweet notes that “we are closer than you think.” The implication is clear: Nujaba is threatening US forces at Ayn al-Assad and other bases. A rocket was fired at the K-1 base near Kirkuk over the weekend. Iran launched ballistic missiles at Ayn al-Assad on January 8, giving more than 100 Americans concussions.
بالأمس.. صور لبعض الاليات بالقرب من قاعدة عين الاسد، كما قال الامين العام للمقاومة الاسلامية حركة النجباء، اننا اقرب اليكم مما تتصورون.#لكم_بالمرصاد pic.twitter.com/O7LCpH9cXx— المهندس نصر الشمري (@Nasralshammari) February 15, 2020
The recent tweets by Nujaba suggest that the “countdown” to attacks on US forces has begun. They call the Americans “occupation forces,” and say Iraq must not be interfered with by outside powers. “His eminence, the secretary-general of the Islamic Resistance, al-Nujaba movement, Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi” was quoted as saying the response will come. They say the “empire of resistance,” which means Iran, Hezbollah, the Houthis and PMU in Iraq, may strike at the US. Iran’s IRGC Aerospace commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh said the same thing over the weekend, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and IRGC chief Hossein Salami have made similar comments in the last 48 hours.
The calls by Nujaba have increased in the last week. They speak of the “blood of the martyrs at Baghdad airport,” a reference to where Soleimani was killed. The increase in rhetoric clearly shows they want to strike at the US. Nujaba appears to be coordinating closely with Iran on its next moves against the US, as indicated by its own statements and history.
The US considers al-Kaabi a major figure in Iran’s role in Iraq. It says he is a former member of Asaib Ahl al-Haq and was involved in attacks on US forces before 2011. In addition to forming Nujaba in 2012, al-Kaabi has helped support the Syrian regime and is a key part of the PMU, alongside Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib and the Badr Organization. In 2018, he threatened to target the US in Iraq, with the US designating him a terrorist that same year. He is already on the Pentagon’s radar as a threat and part of the web of pro-Iranian dangers to US forces in Iraq. The US has singled him out, alongside Khazali and Badr’s Hadi al-Amiri, as keys to Iran’s role in Iraq.