Health personnel in Iraq’s Diyala province rushed more than 100 Shiite militiamen from a Baghdad-sanctioned group backed by Iran to the hospital after they reportedly ate poisoned food at an Iraqi restaurant.
“Mayor of [Iraq’s] Khalis district, Udai Khidran, confirmed the report to Iraqi media and said that 140 members of the militias were hospitalized in Diyala province after they had lunch and departed to Tuz Khurmatu,” notes Bas News, a Kurdish news outlet. “No further details are available about whether there was a plot behind the poisonous food or was just lack of hygienic precautions.”
The Baghdad Post places the estimated number of poisoned militiamen at 120, reporting, “Iraqi security sources said Tuesday 120 terrorists of the Iranian Militias in Iraq and Syria (IMIS) were poisoned and being treated in a hospital in Diyala Governorate.”
The Iran-backed fighters belong to the Popular Mobilization Forces/Units (PMF/U), an umbrella group of predominantly Shiite militias who have been fighting the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) alongside U.S. troops in Iraq.
U.S. military officials have praised the Iran-allied group, also known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, for its contribution to the anti-ISIS fight.
Following Baghdad’s declared victory over ISIS, PMF fighters have intensified their call for a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
Some PMF fighters have threatened U.S. forces in the war-ravaged country.
Human rights organizations like Amnesty International have accused the Shiite militiamen of committing war crimes against Iraq’s Sunni minority.
Nevertheless, the Baghdad-based parliament legalized the PMF as an official component of the Iraqi military.
Some analysts predict the Iran-allied fighters will be at the epicenter of the next major conflict in Iraq.
“On the issues of the [Iran-allied] militias, I share your concern profoundly, and I think the next war in Iraq is likely to be among the PMF themselves,” Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars declared in July 2017.
“Again we keep focusing on the [ISIS] militants, and there are so many troubling dynamics within Iraqi society,” she added, noting that “there are somewhere between 63 and 68 different factions within the Popular Mobilization Forces.”
There are between 100,000 and 120,000 PMF fighters in Iraq, according to various estimates.