Iraq militia chief arrested over attacks on base hosting US forces: Sources

Filed on May 26, 2021

(Reuters file)

The air base was attacked at least four times this month with rockets.

Iraqi security forces on Wednesday arrested senior militia commander Qasim Muslih under the country's anti-terrorism law, the military said, in a move security sources said was linked to attacks on a base that hosts US forces.

Muslih was arrested at dawn and is being questioned by a joint investigative committee about the criminal charges against him, a military statement added, without giving further details.

Two security sources with direct knowledge of the arrest told Reuters that the militia chief was arrested in Baghdad for involvement in several attacks including recent assaults on Ain Al Asad air base, which hosts US and other international forces.

Muslih is the Anbar province head of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a grouping of militias backed by Iran, which the United States regards as the biggest threat to security in the Middle East.

A copy of the arrest warrant issued for Muslih that circulated on social media and was verified by the security sources said that he was arrested under the anti-terrorism law, but did not have further information. The air base was attacked at least four times this month with rockets and an unmanned aerial surveillance system, in incidents seen by many Iraqis as reflecting U.S.-Iranian tensions.

Following the arrest, unidentified gunmen drove vehicles around the fortified Green Zone, which hosts foreign embassies and government buildings, as a show of force, a security source said. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the show only lasted for half an hour and then they withdrew.

A Reuters reporter who tried to drive through the Green Zone said security forces did not allow him in and he was forced to leave, adding there was a heavy security presence in the area.

Another Reuters reporter said there were dozens of PMF forces who were in control of one of the entrances to the Green Zone and were not allowing anyone in.

Powerful paramilitary groups aligned with Iran in Iraq have launched attacks against U.S. targets in the country.

Most of the incidents have caused no casualties, but they have kept up pressure on US troops and US allies in the early days of Joe Biden’s presidency.

Iraq’s government under Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi has sided with the United States but has found it hard to bring the groups under control.

Last year Iraqi security forces raided a stronghold of a powerful Iran-backed militia in Baghdad and detained more than a dozen members of the group. Shortly after the arrest, unidentified gunmen drove vehicles towards government buildings in the Green Zone demanding the release of the militiamen.

Most of the men were released within hours.

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