Harakat al-Nujaba, a militia unit within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.), lashed out at the United States for seeking to impose sanctions against the group and other Iranian-sponsored militia organizations fighting in Iraq and Syria. On November 3, a bill was introduced the U.S. House of Representatives, entitled “Iranian Proxies Terrorist Sanctions Act of 2017,” which, if passed, will impose terrorism-related sanctions with respect to Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat al-Nujaba groups.
Abu Waris al-Musawi, the spokesman for Harakat al-Nujaba, described the bill as a “conspiracy and a victory for the Islamic State and all other terrorist organizations supported by Washington.” He further claimed that the congressional bill is against Iraq’s security institutions and added that the group is waiting for the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Maliki to respond to the latest U.S. move.
“This step is a plot,” Iran’s Fars News Agency quoted Musawi as saying. “After the defeat of their designs in Iraq, the last of which was the Islamic State, they want to set fire to the region. We are waiting for the official position of the government regarding this decision of America. The current groups within the Hashd al-Shaabi are part of the country’s security institutions and any decision against these groups, including the criminalization and sanctioning of them… will be a decision against the Iraqi security.”
Comment: Harakat al-Nujaba – also known as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba – is a prominent Iraqi sectarian group that operates both in Iraq and Syria under the leadership of I.R.G.C. Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. It has been fighting in Syria since 2013. Kaabi has pledged allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The I.R.G.C. uses the Nujaba group not just to fight the Islamic State, but also as a pressure tool against the Baghdad government, regional countries, and the United States.
In March, the Nujaba movement announced the creation of a new brigade to seize the Golan Heights – claiming that “latest victories” against the Islamic State and Sunni rebels in Iraq and Syria have allowed the group and its allies to focus on Israel. Leaders of the group claimed that members of the new brigade are highly-trained, well-equipped and capable of fighting the Jewish state. “Israel is weaker than a spider web. Islamic resistance is capable of confronting the axis of evil and annihilating the occupying Zionist regime,” Kaabi told Lebanon-based Arabic-language al-Mayadeen news network.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq – or the League of the Righteous – is also an Iraqi Shiite militant group fighting in Iraq and Syria. The group is funded by the Iran and reportedly has more than 10,000 fighters. According to the U.S. government accounts, the Lebanese Hezbollah upon a request by the Iranian government helped form and train AAH in 2005 to carry out attacks against the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. AAH started as a splinter group of the Mahdi Army, the powerful Shiite Iraqi paramilitary force led by Muqtada al-Sadr. AAH has been accused of killing American soldiers and committing human rights abuses against Iraqi Sunnis.
AAH leader Qais al-Khazali has reportedly pledged allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and his group takes orders from I.R.G.C. Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, rather than the government in Baghdad. This is despite the fact that AAH is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.), which has been incorporated into the Iraqi security forces.
Khazali was arrested by the U.S. military in 2007 for his alleged role in high-profile attack in Karbala that had killed five American service members. But he was released two years later along with other AAH members – apparently in an exchange for a British hostage. The U.S. and British government denied it was a prisoner exchange.
Although AAH and U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces have recently been fighting against the Islamic State together, Khazali’s anti-American sentiment has not diminished. Last year, he hinted that his fighters could blend in with Iraqi troops to kill American advisers in Mosul. And as the Islamic State – the common foe – is on the brink of defeat in Iraq and Syria, Iran-controlled militant groups such as AAH and Harkat al-Nujaba have already dialed up anti-American propaganda and are pressuring the Baghdad government not to allow American troops to stay in Iraq for a long term.
In April, Khazali accused the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia of destabilizing Iraq at a speech to Iraqi college students. But when a poet accompanying him began praising Soleimani, the students protested with chants of “Iran out! Iran out!”
Khazali’s call for unity in Iraq also runs counter to his previous speeches and actions. In May, he said that his organization aims to establish a “Shiite full moon” not a “Shiite crescent.” In a video published in the Arab media, Khazali added that an alliance of Shiite forces across the region would be ready to achieve that goal by the time the hidden Shiite Imam Mahdi reappears. He noted that the Shiite force will include the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) in Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthi movement in Yemen, the Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F) and other Shiite militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq.
The Middle East Institute (MEI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-for-profit, educational organization. It does not engage in advocacy and its scholars’ opinions are their own. MEI welcomes financial donations, but retains sole editorial control over its work and its publications reflect only the authors’ views. For a listing of MEI donors, please click here.