Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, angered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement during his recent visit to the country that United States troops will remain there, renewed threats against American service members in recent days.
Citing several news reports, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) noted Tuesday that some members of an umbrella organization for mainly Iran-allied Shiite militias said Trump’s surprise visit to a U.S. base in Iraq on December 26 amounted to a “denigration of Iraq’s sovereignty [and] will not go unpunished.”
In early November, the Pentagon’s office of the inspector general (OIG), echoing U.S. military and civilian officials, warned that the Popular Mobilization Forces/Units (PMF/U), the umbrella organization, poses a threat to the U.S. troops in Iraq, noting that the Shiite militiamen had already targeted Americans in the country.
A spokesperson for the Pentagon told Breitbart News later that month that fighting the PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi, is not part of the U.S. mission in Iraq despite the threat the armed group poses to American service members.
Some high-ranking U.S. military officials have praised the PMF’s contribution to degrading the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in the region.
Baghdad has legalized the PMF as an official component of the Iraqi security forces. Not all PMF troops maintain a relationship with Iran. The organization includes fighters from Iraq’s Sunni, Kurdish, and Christian communities.
During his confirmation hearing last month, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the new chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said the AAH and KH branches are not under the control of Baghdad.
On Tuesday, an anti-PMF Iraqi group warned of the Shiite militias intentions to target U.S. troops.
Sheikh Mzahem al Hweit, a spokesman for some Arab factions in Nineveh province, told the London-based al Quds al Arabi daily that he had in his possession accurate information that the militiamen “are poised to fight the American forces, with Iranian support and funding,” MEMRI noted.
Shiite militias “intend to establish a trained military force that will operate secretly to attack the American forces in military bases across Iraq,” he added.
The spokesman said the Arab faction had informed the U.S. troops about the PMF factions’ intentions.
Abu Wareth al Musawi, a spokesman for an AAH faction known as al Nujaba, reportedly criticized Trump late last month for insulting Iraqi sovereignty during his visit, saying, “That idiot Trump must realize that Iraq’s sovereignty was achieved with blood and that no [American] bases will be built in the land of resistance and martyrs … The [Iraqi] government is obligated now to drive out the American forces that harm the country’s sovereignty.”
During his visit, Trump said there are no plans to pull out the more than 5,000 American troops in Iraq.
Musawi reportedly threatened to carry out military operations against American troops forces.
“If the American side refuses to withdraw, Al-Nujaba’s reaction will be the rifle. As we fought for Iraqi sovereignty and to preserve the political process, so shall we attack the foreign forces if they establish an occupation and refuse to withdraw,” he also said, according to MEMRI.
Qais al Khazali, the secretary-general of the AAH, reportedly tweeted that the Shiite militiamen have the military capability to push out the American forces.
According to MEMRI, Khazali wrote in late December:
Trump’s visit to the American military base without honoring diplomatic norms exposed the truth about the American plans in Iraq. [Trump], the Iraqis’ response [to you] will be by means of a parliamentary decision to drive out your military forces, whether you want it or not. If they won’t leave, we have the know-how and capability to expel them by other means that are known to your forces, which were forced to leave in humiliation in 2011.
Jawad al Talibawy, another PMF faction spokesman, made similar threats last week, saying:
If Iraqi diplomacy doesn’t succeed, then the Iraqi people, who have their fingers on the triggers [of the guns] of victory and who bear aloft the flag of freedom and security, are fully at the ready to stand aggressively against the direct and indirect American presence and the American occupation of parts of Iraq, and to bring to an end the movements of [the U.S.] soldiers in the districts of Iraq.
Jafar al Husseini, the spokesman for the KH faction, also warned during an interview with the Hezbollah-linked al Mayadeen TV late last month, that Shiite militias would force the American military out of Iraq.
“The resistance will force the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Iraq,” he said.
“We are serious about [launching] an operation to drive out the Americans by force of arms because this is the only language the Americans understand,” he added during a different interview.