Akram al-Kaabi, the leader of Iranian-sponsored Iraqi militia group Harakat al-Nujaba, visited prominent Lebanese Shiite cleric Sheikh Afif al-Nabulsi to discuss regional affairs, Iranian and Arab media reported today. Nabulsi is the head of Shiite religious scholars in southern Lebanon. "Iraq must remain united in all national and religious components, and Iraqis should reject the designs of countries that are conspiring against their unity and sovereignty, especially America, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, which sponsored the worst forms of terrorism to make the country weak," Kaabi was quoted as saying in the meeting.
Comment: Harakat al-Nujaba – also known as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba – is a militia unit within the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.). The group operates both in Syria and Iraq under the leadership of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force. Kaabi, the group’s chief commander, makes no secret of his allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or his close relationship with Soleimani. The I.R.G.C. uses the Nujaba group and other powerful Shiite units within the P.M.F. not just to fight the Islamic State, but also as a pressure tool against the Baghdad government, regional Sunni states and Israel, and the United States. Kaabi once famously stated that his forces would topple the Baghdad government if ordered by Khamenei. Kaabi has also declared that he will deploy more forces to Syria once the Islamic State is defeated in Mosul.
The Nujaba group has very close ties with the Lebanese Hezbollah. In August, the Nujaba movement announced that it will support the Lebanese Hezbollah in the fight against the “occupying Zionist regime.” It continued: “Our war against the axis of evil and their mercenaries, including Daesh [Islamic State] and al-Nusra in Syria and Iraq is one fight, although it is fought in different battlefields.” It added: “We declare our solidarity and complete support to your loud voice against the occupying Zionist regime. And as you said, we will never forget our people taken hostage.” The statement vowed that the “resistance” will continue to fight its enemies.
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.
The creation of the Golan Liberation Brigade further alarmed Israeli leaders about the increasing presence and influence of the Lebanese Hezbollah and other I.R.G.C.-supported groups in southwestern Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly sought assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin to prevent Iran from taking advantage of the conflict in Syria to station its proxies permanently on Israel’s northern border.