What is known about raids on Iranian-backed groups in Baghdad: Documents and background
Updated: Jun 27, 2020
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
On the night of June 25-26 Iraqi security forces raided an Iranian-backed group. This is an unprecedented incident and has led to a variety of claims and rumors about how it unfolded. We have decided to put in one place documents and details about the developing incident on June 26, 2020.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command statement, circulated in translated English and attributed to official sources:
The incident began around midnight between June 25-26.
In the name of of Allah the Merciful
Our proud Iraqi people and the world have been busy launching indirect fire on the country's headquarters, Iraqi military camps and foreign embassies protected by the state for the past years, and the importance of the issue and its negative repercussions on the Iraqi national security, has become a follow-up topic from the highest levels, with the aim of informing the Iraqi people and public opinion of the truth regarding On this issue and developments on the night of 25/26 June, we show the following:
1. Accurate intelligence was available on people who had previously targeted the Green Zone and Baghdad International Airport with indirect fire several times.
2. The concerned agencies monitored new intentions to carry out shootings against government targets inside the Green Zone.
3. The whereabouts of the group carrying out the intelligence fire were determined, and a fundamental arrest warrant against them from the Iraqi judiciary was prepared in accordance with the anti-terrorism law.
4. The Counter-Terrorism Agency was tasked with implementing the obligation to arrest and prevent the terrorist act against state sites, according to jurisdiction, and the mission carried out the task with a high professionalism, arresting fourteen defendants, who are many in a group with the criminal identifications represented by two launching bases.
5. Upon completion of the implementation process, a special investigation committee formed by the Ministry of the Interior and the membership of the security services was formed.
6. After the arrest process was completed, it was clear that armed parties moved by government wheels and without official approval towards government headquarters from inside and outside the Green Zone. They approached one of the headquarters of the anti-terrorist agency inside the Green Zone, and contacted it with abuse. These parties do not want to be part of the state and its obligations and seek to remain outside the authority of the Commander-in-Chief of the constitutional and legal armed forces.
We, while stressing the seriousness of this behavior and its threat to the security of the state and its democratic political system, show that these entities have used the capabilities of the state. And what can not be allowed under any pretext. We affirm the determination to continue the march in achieving security for the Iraqi people and to entrust the matter to the judiciary with the competent authority.
May Allah grant success
Joint Operations Command
Michael Knights: "The CTS raid targeted a KH base in Dora, a district of Baghdad that sits south of the International Zone. A number of Iran-backed Shia militias have seized tracts of land in this area since 2003, often farms belonging to former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime."
5:30am PMU armed convoy in Baghdad
In the wake of the arrest video in Baghdad showed PMU members in Baghdad with weapons, apparently showing that they would still operate openly. Members of the PMU also walked around the Green Zone, according to video. Hashtags were even created. The PMU are part of the security forces. PMU media sources would continue to spread rumors about their members being released in the early morning hours. See Ahed TV for instance.
Baxtiyar Goran noted "It’s been reported that one of the persons arrested in tonight’s raid is an Iranian citizen. The raid targeted a warehouse for preparing katyusha rockets to be used for attacks on Iraqi military bases that house US-led coalition forces." Knights: "KH operational commander Abu Fadak (also known as Abdul-Karim al-Zrejawi) pulled together a force of around 150 fighters in nearly thirty pickup trucks, with at least one carrying a 23 millimeter twin antiaircraft cannon."
Iran's Press TV statement
The headquarters of an anti-terror group within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), better known as Hashd al-Sha’abi, have come under attack in Baghdad, raising suspicions about the US role in Iraq. More than a dozen members of Kata'ib Hezbollah (كتائب حزب_الله) were reportedly detained during the raid in southern Baghdad in the early hours of Friday. Initial reports said several commanders of the anti-US group, which is integrated into Iraq's security forces, were among those arrested.
Iran's media claims that "three of the group's detained commanders had been transferred over to the US military. A number of local media outlets also reported that American forces were involved in the raid. One tweet by an PMU member claimed that Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had apologized to the anti-terror group's head Hadi al-Ameri over the incident. The Arabic-language al-Sumaria television network, citing an unnamed security source, reported on Friday that all 13 PMU members who had been detained are now free."
The Iranian reports seek to blame the US and argue that the US repositioning of forces over the last months was to prepare the ground for new precision airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah (as happened in December and March, and during the US killing of Qasem Soleimani and KH head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis). The US and Iraq are engaging in Strategic Dialogue. US CENTCOM head Kenneth McKenzie has described the situation in Iraq as "contested deterrence."
Al-Ain reports "on Friday, the Iraqi authorities arrested 14 people;Accusing them of being behind the targeting of the Green Zone and Baghdad Airport, while their loyalists made provocative movements in the capital."
There have been frequent and increasing rocket attacks throughout June. Rocket attack incidents were reported on June 8, 10, 13, 14, 16, 18, 22.
Al-Arabiya says "Iraqi authorities announced on Friday, the details of the nightly raid in Baghdad, confirming that people involved in targeting the Green Zone and foreign embassieshave been arrested, noting that they raided Hezbollah headquarters in order to stop these targeting...the security spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades Iraq launched a violent attack on the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi, describing it as an American agent and a 'treacherous mutant', threatening him with punishment and "torture", saying: 'We lie in wait for you.' He pointed out that Hezbollah militias surrounded some areas in the capital, especially in the Green Zone, which includes public institutions, embassies, and official centers, as well as housing for Iraqi officials in the state."
Rudaw notes "While an Iraqi official speaking to AFP on Friday said at least “13 Kataib Hezbollah fighters” were detained in the first of its kind raid in years, Reuters, also citing an official, reported that at least 23 fighters were taken into custody. A PMF official cited said it was 19."
Kataib Hezbollah's Abu Ali al-Askari, a senior Kataib Hezbollah official said: 'Kadhimi once again followed his American master’s orders, and implemented another plan of theirs in Iraq, after he was involved in the assassination of the two martyrs [Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis], while the fighters of the Hashd immediately gathered and released their fellow fighters in custody,' Askari published on his official Telegram channel on Friday, using a shortened version of the Arabic name for the PMF."
Reports note that incorrect details said that some PMU members were released when they were not. PMU media had pushed this "released" narrative. Lawk Ghafuri notes "The joint operation command statement reads that the operation was in no way against the PMF, and the Kataib Hezbollah fighters who were detained are wanted suspects by the Iraqi judicial council for targeting Iraqi military bases, government institutions, and embassies." The Security Media Cell said the same thing at 4:30pm on June 26.
Knights: The PMF Security Directorate, nominally because they are PMF members and thus subject to their service’s military discipline. Yet the directorate is led by a KH commander, Abu Zainab al-Lami (Hussein Falah al-Lami), casting doubt on the motives behind the transfer.
Pro-Iran groups had pushed rumors that "40 #US army armoured vehicles accompanied CTS, raided PMF's 45 brigade's headquarter ( Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah) in #Baghdad and detained its four leaders."
Kamaran Palani, an academic, suggests "Key to understand al-Kadhimi's last nigh move against Kata'ib Hezbollah is the popular support to this action. The challenge to the KH & other armed groups isn't the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service or al-Kadhimi, but the decreasing of popular support."
Ranj Alaaldin "According to AP 13 members of the group have been arrested. Kadhimi has been under pressure to reign in Iranian proxies who have continued to attack US targets. It’s inconceivable that he would have launched tonight’s operation without the firm backing of the US."
The PMU "released" narrative appeared to be an attempt to save face and claim the arrests were a mistake. The Joint Operations Command statement was in response to it. There were questions about whether custody of the men was transferred from ICTS. Other posts by Husham al-Hashimi noted that they had been transferred and a judge was handling the case.
Photos circulated of the raid were said to actually be from Anbar. On June 25 news indicated Kadhimi wanted to assert more control of borders and other areas from other armed groups.
Security Media Cell: 17:00
Accurate intelligence was available on people who had previously targeted the Green Zone and Baghdad International Airport with indirect fire several times.
Iraqi Joint Operations Command: unauthorized group that entered Green Zone was in government vehicles used without permission. Group approached CTService headquarters.
Issues that concerned the Joint Operations Command: “these elements don’t wish to be part of the state and its commitments, and seek to stay outside the legal and constitutional authority of the general commander of the armed forces.” They use official uniforms and weapons but don't obey state structures.
Rafid Jaboori: "Unprecedented tension in #Iraq btw the US trained Counter Terrorism Service & the #Iran -backed Popular Mobilization Units PMU they have coexisted without major problems for years."
Iran media pushes narrative that Iraq PM and General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi "apologized" for the raid.
The raid came as Iraq is continuing to confront an ISIS insurgency (see here and here) and the arrests raise questions about Iraq's governmental authority to keep the men in custody. if it can't it may appear weak and that will erode its ability to crack down on rogue groups at a tense time when Iraq faces an economic crises and Iranian and Turkish military operations in the north.
18:40 Baghdad time
Commander of ISOF-1's name circulates on social media. "Reports that Gen Hussain Azzawi (Sunni) a former high ranking officer in Saddam’s military with ‘close links to US’ was in charge of the operation to attack Hashd office."
The "released" photo was allegedly taken at PMF security headquarters. Unclear the men were transferred there. One "blow-by-blow" account looks at the videos and details as it unfolded (see here).
Protesters on video appear to celebrate the raid.
Reports that Khaled al-Obedi (خالد العبيدي), former Def. Minister, has been appointed to run national securityl