The link between Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi militias | News, Middle East
BEIRUT: Iraq has been relatively calm in recent weeks.
That could change after Mohammad Allawi withdraws as prime minister designate, but Iran’s proxies in Iraq are giving dialogue a chance before moving forward with what they say is revenge for the murder by Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Al-Quds Force.
After Allawi’s resignation last weekend, Iraqi Kataeb Hezbollah quickly made known its opposition to the appointment of the country’s intelligence chief, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, as the next prime minister. An Iranian-backed militia spokesperson said on Twitter that Kadhimi assisted the United States in its operation in January which led to the assassinations of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the de facto leader of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces.
Naming Kadhimi would be a declaration of war, warned Kataeb Hezbollah.
Perhaps this is what triggers the response of Iranian proxies to retaliation against US forces or its allies in Iraq.
Since the United States carried out the drone strike that killed Soleimani, Iran has responded with missile attacks on Iraqi air bases housing American troops in Erbil and Ain al-Assad. But on January 5 – days after Soleimani’s death – Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said the “resistance groups” would react in their own way.
“Iran reacts as it wishes, but that does not prevent the ‘Axis of resistance’ from responding as well,” Nasrallah said.
A leading Hezbollah source said that response was still relevant and “it will take place when the time and place is right.”
Claiming that Hezbollah was patient and citing their fight against Israel, the source said: “It took 18 years in Lebanon. [to force the Israeli withdrawal] and time would pass when we would kill an Israeli soldier every five months.
When asked why no response has yet been carried out in Iraq by the “resistance groups”, the source said: “We are giving negotiations a chance. [for] a new government.
Iraq has been without a government since popular protests forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to resign.
Iraqi factions know what is in their best interests, the Hezbollah source said, adding that they will decide when the time is right.
“We will wait for the formation of the new government, which we expect by the end of the year. Based on the next government’s decision to go ahead with the call for the expulsion of US troops, then you will see a response, ”the source said. He was referring to the Iraqi parliament’s approval of a bill that called on foreign troops to leave the country after Soleimani’s murder.
Because it was signed between two governments (US and Iraq), it does not need the approval of the legislature, according to the source. “But it was their [Iraq’s] decision, we therefore respect it and will not oppose it.
As for reports that Nasrallah or Mohammad al-Kawtharani, Hezbollah’s representative in Iraq, would temporarily assume the lead role of Iranian proxies in Iraq, the source said that was not entirely correct.
Iraqi factions are comfortable with Kawtharani, a Lebanese citizen residing in Iraq and married to an Iraqi woman. He speaks the same Arabic dialect as the Iraqis and had a close relationship with Soleimani’s coordination activities with the Iraqi militias.
“He uses the same swear words and slang used in Iraq. The leaders there are comfortable with him, ”the source said.
In August 2017, Moqtada al-Sadr clashed with then-prime minister Haidar al-Abadi, calling on the prime minister to disarm Al-Hashd al-Chaabi and integrate him into the Iraqi army. In 2018, after weeks of political tension, Sadr and Abadi allied.
At the time, Nasrallah spoke to Sadr and advised him to relax his positions. “Nasrallah does not strike anyone’s hand, but he is considered a respected spiritual figure, so they listen to his advice,” the source said when asked if Nasrallah and / or Kawtharani are taking the lead in the Iraqi proxies.
Kawtharani fits naturally into the group of Iraqi men which includes Sadr, Allawi and other prominent figures from Baghdad.
Allawi lived in Lebanon in the late 1970s and 1980s and studied at the American University of Beirut.
Sadr travels regularly to Lebanon and stays there for months. “He enters legally through Lebanon’s border post with Syria or through the airport like any other visitor. Last time he was here for a few weeks, but we didn’t meet him. Sometimes we meet him and sometimes not, even if he asks for a date, ”said the Hezbollah source.
“These are all men we have ties with that date back to the Saddam era, when there was oppression of the Shiites,” the source said. He added: “We have had these connections for many years and today they happen to be in decision-making roles, so it is only fitting that we are in contact with each other.”
But the leading role over Iranian proxies and militias is not a role Hezbollah can take. “Soleimani had a training camp in Iran that was almost the size of Lebanon. He would also sleep in Beirut and have breakfast in Damascus, before sleeping in Baghdad the following night. There’s no way sayyed [Nasrallah] can do it, ”the source said.
Other than that, the Al-Quds Force is its own entity and does not need to rely on anyone, the source said. “We have enough to deal with in Lebanon and Syria right now. This role [in Iraq] is automatically taken by the Al-Quds Force and Soleimani’s successor. We will help in any way we can, but we certainly cannot take on this role. “
And this head of the Al-Quds Force will decide, in cooperation with the Iraqi militias, when and how to react to Soleimani’s murder. “We left this decision to the Iraqi factions because they know what is best for them,” concluded the Hezbollah source.