Iran-backed Iraqi militias signal readiness to enter Fallujah

Qassem Soliemani (left, green hat) and Abu Mahdi al Muhandis (right, black hat), visiting the battlefield near Fallujah.

Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the leader of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) and also of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), said that the second phase of Operation Fallujah will be launched ” in few hours. ”

Muhandis made the statement today in a brief interview with a journalist from Lebanese media outlet Al Manar, affiliated with Hezbollah. Muhandis claimed the The Fallujah operation was proceeding as planned, with the forces successfully capturing Karmah, located eight miles from Fallujah, and the strategic bridge at Sejrieh. Iraqi forces announcement on May 24 that they had captured Karmah. Fallujah has been under the control of the Islamic State since January 2014, while Karmah since April 2014.

The Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Harakat al Nujaba also job on his official Facebook page, photographs of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, inspecting Karmah on May 24. reported that Soleimani discussed operational tactics with senior PMF leaders. Soleimani and Muhandis were also photography inspecting Sejrieh.

In the interview with al Manar today, Muhandis expressed his opposition to US airstrikes in Fallujah, pointing out that PMF did not ask for or need them. Between May 24 and May 26, the United States launched 10 airstrikes against the Islamic State in support of Iraqi army and militia operations in the Fallujah-Habbaniyah corridor, according to the Defense Ministry. US airstrike targets included Islamic State bunkers, tactical units, tunnels, battle positions, artillery, vehicles and weapons caches.

Muhandis also claimed that the tribes of Fallujah support the PMF. Seeking to fend off “some media propaganda”, he said his forces are “fighting terrorism, not the people of the city”. Muhandis said more than 20,000 Sunnis are members of the PMF. He then noted that Iraqi security forces had begun establishing a security fence 30 kilometers south of Fallujah.

Regarding Iraqi Shiite militias entering Fallujah proper, Muhandis said, “We will enter the city if we ask for it. He continued, “If we deem our entry necessary into the fight in the city of Fallujah, we will support the security and military forces and will not be limited to the vicinity of the city.”

Iran-backed militias have participated in multiple offensives to liberate Iraqi cities from the Islamic State. Despite denials by US officials, Iranian-backed elements of the PMF took part in efforts to expel the Islamic State from Tikrit, Baiji, Amerli and Jurf al Sahkar. Militias have often hoisted their banners in the city center after defeating the Islamic State.

Soleimani and Muhandis were at the forefront of liberating these towns. After the failed Iraqi military offensives, Soleimani and Muhandis organized the militias to play a key role in the fight. These victories raised the status of PMF in Iraq.

Militia commanders have been open about their goals in Iraq. Hamed al-Jazaeery, Saraya Khorasani’s commander, recently told The Associate Press that he wanted the PMF to be “a third power in Iraq.”

“Why can’t the Hashd [PMF] to be like the Revolutionary Guards in Iran? Jazaeery asked.

Harakat al Nujaba’s spokesman recently said that his group and Hezbollah, Iran’s first proxy in the Middle East, are “twins of a resistance that can never be let go or separated”.

Meanwhile, Akram al Kaabi, leader Harakat al Nujaba, has made his allegiances clear. He said he would overthrow the Iraqi government if ordered to do so by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Keywords: Iran, Iraq, Popular Mobilization Forces

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