The commander of an Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary unit has accused the American troops of colluding with the Islamic State and killing dozens of Iraqi militiamen and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) officers along the Iraqi-Syrian border last night – a charge the U.S.-led coalition denied. He said Hossein Qomi, a senior I.R.G.C. commander and military strategist in charge of security operations along the Syrian-Iraqi border, was among the casualties. The militia group, which is part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.), warned that it will hold the U.S. military responsible for the killing.

“Last night, the positions of Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (K.S.S.) along the [Syrian-Iraqi] borders was heavily bombarded by the Americans, and they claimed in a statement that they had conducted strikes against the Daesh [Islamic State] terrorist group. However, these areas were cleared by our forces four days ago, and we had stationed some of our forces there. Complete information about the location of cleared areas had also been given to the Syrian Army and Russian forces,” Abu Ala al-Welayi, the secretary-general of K.S.S. said in an interview with I.R.G.C.-affiliated Tasnim News Agency earlier today.

The Iraqi militia commander alleged that the U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria support the Islamic State against “resistance” forces and hinted that P.M.F. forces and American troops stationed in al-Tanf region are on a collision course in the near future. “Our forces were hit by smart bombs in the border area across the al-Akashat region [in Anbar Province] and east of al-Tanf region, where the Americans have declared their red line. American forces have conducted air strikes against our resistance forces in the past too. All these attacks have been filmed by our photographers,” he added.

“What happened last night was a great tragedy. And we have asked the Iraqi government to soon launch an investigation into the incident,” he continued. “Everyone shares the view that the Americans in al-Tanf region is cooperating with Daesh. We have fought for years and based on our experience understand well that last night’s attack by the Americans can in no way be by mistake. American spy drones monitor our forces round the clock and they understand well that Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada forces had days ago cleared terrorists’ bases and were stationed there. In addition, we had declared our plan to liberate this area.”

The Iranian-linked commander stressed that while the Americans will try to prevent P.M.F. forces from seizing Akashat region, his forces are determined to liberate it – describing the region as more strategically important for P.M.F. than Tal Afar in western Mosul. He criticized the Baghdad government for procrastinating and not allowing the P.M.F. to begin operations in Akashat.

He added that the paramilitary forces are an integral and legal entity within the Iraqi security forces responsible for maintaining security for the Iraqi people. The commander emphasized that his militants follow the command of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and expect more attacks by the U.S. troops as the militiamen are advancing closer to “the den of the Great Satan” – a reference to the U.S. base in al-Tanf region.

Comment: There are conflicting reports about last night’s incident. While P.M.F. officials say American air strike killed their fighters, the U.S.-led coalition has denied it. "Allegations of Coalition strikes vs. Popular Mobilization Forces near Iraq - Syria border are inaccurate. No Coalition strikes there ATT [at that time]," the Coalition spokesman US Army Col Ryan Dillon tweeted on Tuesday.

A statement circulated by Islamic State supporters said the terrorist group carried out the attack and added that its fighters captured armored vehicles, weapons and ammunition.

With the Islamic State on the verge of defeat in Iraq, the I.R.G.C. and its Iraqi militia proxies have recently dialed up their propaganda campaign against the U.S. and its regional allies – accusing the U.S. troops of colluding with the Islamic State. This poses security risks to U.S. military advisers that are still helping the Iraqi security forces battling the Islamic State and stabilizing the country. It also increases the potential for a dangerous confrontation between Iran-backed Iraqi militias and U.S. troops in Iraq.  

Iranian-backed Iraqi militia groups are shifting their attention from fighting the Islamic State to challenging the presence of American troops stationed in Iraq. The U.S. military has recently targeted Iranian-backed militias approaching the de-confliction zone near al-Tanf in southern Syria. Remarks by Welayi and other Iranian-linked P.M.F. leaders indicate that a potentially more dangerous confrontation between Iranian-supported Iraqi militias and U.S. forces in Anbar Province is also on the horizon.

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