What to Know:
At the funeral for Kataib Hezbollah commander Abu Baqer Al-Saeedi, who was killed last week during an American drone strike in Baghdad, Iraqi Popular Mobilization Force (PMU) chief of staff Abu Fadak Al-Mohammedawi vowed retaliation and to expel foreign forces from the country.
The statement comes as officials from the United States-led Coalition continue talks with Iraqi officials over the potential of withdrawal sometime in the future. Meanwhile, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella organization of Iran-backed Shia militias, has pledged to increase attacks against American forces.
Last Wednesday, Kataib Hezbollah commander Abu Baqer Al-Saeedi, along with other militia leadership, were killed when an American drone strike targeted their vehicle in Baghdad. According to the United States Central Command, Abu Baqer was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region.” The strike also came in apparent response to last month’s explosive drone attack against the T-22 outpost in Jordan, which left three American soldiers dead and dozens of others wounded.
?? Channel Alatajah: Interview with Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Chief of Staff Abu Fadak Al-Mohammedawi at Abu Baqir Al-Saadi’s funeral stating the only revenge is the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. pic.twitter.com/WpmIseGanm
— Abdul Quadir – ????????? (@Northistan) February 12, 2024
At the funeral of Abu Baqer, Abu Fadak retaliation and to expel foreign forces from the country for the killing.
For some context, the PMU is an umbrella organization comprised of various armed factions and militias in Iraq, which was formed in 2014 to combat the growing threat from the Islamic State. While the PMU initially gained support for its role in fighting ISIS, the organization has since evolved into a significant political and military force within Iraq, having been recognized as a part of the Iraqi military in 2018. Many of the militias within the PMU have strong ties to Iran, both ideologically and logistically, who has also provided training, funding, and intelligence support mainly through the IRGC’s Quds Force. Several of the pro-Iranian Shia militias part of the PMU have previously waged an insurgency against American forces in the country during the Iraq War.
Before taking command of the PMU, Abu Fadak was the general secretary of Kataib Hezbollah.
Kataib Hezbollah was established in 2003 following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, where it gained a reputation for its attacks against Coalition forces in the country, especially IED attacks targeting convoys and patrols. Kataib Hezbollah joined the PMU in the fight against ISIS, where it was involved in the campaign to liberate Mosul.
NEW: Suspected US airstrike against a vehicle (SUV) in Baghdad, Iraq.
As per Iraqi sources, the airstrike targeted leaders of Kataeb Hezbollah, Abu Baqer Al-Saidi and Arkan Al-Aliyawi. pic.twitter.com/cMShOAV1Bj
— FJ (@Natsecjeff) February 7, 2024
Following the fall of ISIS, attacks continued against American forces. In December 2019, a Kataib Hezbollah rocket attack against the K-1 airbase in Kirkuk killed an American contractor, resulting in American strikes against Kataib Hezbollah targets in al-Qa’im. The strikes led to Kataib Hezbollah members, as well as other factions of the PMU, besieging the American Embassy in Baghdad. On January 3, Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed alongside IRGC General Qassam Soleimani during an American drone strike at the Baghdad Airport.
The killing of al-Muhandis and Soleimani led to Kataib Hezbollah leaving the PMU to form the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, where it regularly carried out rocket attacks against American installations in Iraq since. Attacks picked up significantly in October 2023, which the Islamic Resistance said was in support of Hamas in its fight against Israel. To date, the Islamic Resistance has carried out over 150 attacks against American forces in Iraq and Syria. The attack against the T-22 outpost marked a significant escalation in the conflict, as it was the first to directly result in fatalities.
Why it Matters:
Iraq finds itself in a delicate political balancing act between its historical ties with Iran and its strategic partnership with the United States. Iran continues to hold significant influence and clout in Iraqi politics, largely driven by pro-Iranian Shia political parties and militia forces that are a fundamental part of Iraq’s security apparatus. While some aspects of Iraqi politics are striving for no foreign influence (either from the US or Iran), opposition to American military presence in the country has grown at a larger pace as it is viewed as infringing on Iraqi sovereignty.
With that being said, the main goal of these militia forces is to expel the United States from the country in an effort to usher in Iranian influence to fill in the void. They ultimately seek to assert control over Iraqi politics and security affairs while aligning with Iran’s interests in the country.
As stated, the PMU is a collection of fighting groups that are technically part of the Iraqi military. If more elements of the PMU decide to side with Kataib Hezbollah in its fight against the United States, it would severely degrade the security situation in country for American forces and likely add significant pressure on withdrawal talks. Likewise, it would also put pressure on the Iraqi government to either allow these attacks to happen or clamp down on militia activity, which would have its own political implications.