Iran-backed Iraqi militias say won’t be silent over alleged US strike

Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) carrying their weapons, advance towards the city of Al-Qaim. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 June 2018

Iran-backed Iraqi militias say won’t be silent over alleged US strike

  • Iraqi forces hit by the airstrike had not made contact nor coordinated their presence there with Iraq’s Joint Operations Command
  • The PMF bolstered Iraq’s security forces during their battle to retake a third of the country from Daesh, helping secure victory against the militants

IRBIL: Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella grouping of mostly Iran-backed Shiite militias, said it would not remain silent over an alleged US airstrike it said killed 22 of its members across the border in Syria last week.
“To the Americans we say ... we will not be quiet about this attack,” senior PMF commander Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandes, said in a video message.
In a news conference, Mohandes said the PMF had collected fragments of the missiles used in the strike, which he said proved it was a US attack.
This followed an accusation by the PMF on Monday that the US airstrike wounded a further 12 of its members in the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal.
The US has denied involvement in the strike. The Iraqi military said none of its troops tasked with securing the Iraqi-Syrian border had been hit by the air strike.
Iraqi forces hit by the airstrike had not made contact nor coordinated their presence there with Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, the military added.
The PMF bolstered Iraq’s security forces during their battle to retake a third of the country from Daesh, helping secure victory against the militants. They were later formally integrated into Iraq’s official security structure.
Though Iraq conducts cross-border strikes against Daesh positions in Syria, its security forces do not maintain a ground force. However, several PMF militias have supported Syrian regime forces on the ground for years.
Mohandes is one of Iran’s most powerful allies in Iraq. He formerly headed the Kataib Hezbollah militia, one of the closest to Tehran. The two brigades hit in last week’s airstrike were affiliates of Kataib Hezbollah.
The dispute comes amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran, precipitated by US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of a 2015 nuclear agreement.
Washington last month said it would impose new economic sanctions on Tehran.
In a separate development, security and medical sources said attackers had slit the throats of the mother and three sisters of an Iraqi election commission employee in their home.
The employee, from the Turkmen minority in the town of Hamrin in ethnically mixed Diyala Province, was not at home at the time and was unharmed, the sources said. No group had claimed responsibility for the killings late on Sunday.
Daesh threatened to attack Iraq’s May parliamentary election and anyone who assisted in it. At least one candidate was killed before the vote but the group did not claim responsibility for his killing.
A security source said security forces had launched an operation in the north of the province against Daesh.


Ankara meddling in South Caucasian conflict sparks wide criticism

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan meets with top military officials in Yerevan on September 27, 2020. Arch foes Armenia and Azerbaijan on September 27, 2020 accused each other of initiating deadly clashes that claimed at least 23 lives over a decades-long territorial dispute and threatened to draw in regional powers Russia and Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2020

Ankara meddling in South Caucasian conflict sparks wide criticism

  • Turkey, under the leadership of Recept Tayyip Er4dogan, is also blamed for meddling in Syria, Iraq and Libya
  • Syrian mercenaries reportedly recruited with the help of Turkish intelligence agency

JEDDAH: Amid the rising escalation of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ankara has offered its full diplomatic support to Baku.
This is along with widespread reports that it has arranged a flow of Syrian jihadists to the Azeri territories via Turkey to boost its regional partner’s military resilience during the clashes.
However, after its controversial meddling in Syria, Iraq and Libya, its active engagement in a conflict in the South Caucasus has sparked criticism about how far Ankara can go to expand its regional ambitions.
“We strongly condemn the Armenian attack that caused civilian losses and that is a clear violation of international law. Turkey fully supports Azerbaijan. We’ll stand with it anyway it wishes,” read a Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement on Sept. 27.
Armenian officials have long claimed that some Turkish troops remained in Azerbaijan recently after they went there for joint drilling activities.
Sources from the Syrian National Army (SNA) reportedly announced that up to 1,000 jihadists were deployed to Azerbaijan as mercenaries, while sources from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia reported that hundreds of Syrian mercenaries were moved through Turkey’s southeastern province of Kilis.
Hikmet Durgun, a Turkish journalist, claimed that these SNA militants would be deployed toward Nagorno Karabakh, a disputed landlocked region in the South Caucasus.
Sources reached by Arab News also claimed that some of the mercenaries were drawn from Turkish-backed factions on the Libyan battleground.
Syrian mercenaries are said to be recruited through the intermediary of the Turkish intelligence agency with a promised monthly wage of $2,000 each, and have been transported via Turkish military cargo planes to the Azeri cities of Ganja and Baku using the airspace of Georgia.
“About a month ago, rumors spread on WhatsApp among SNA fighters that they can register to go to Azerbaijan. Many registered over WhatsApp, others apparently through offices in the Turkish-controlled areas. The fighters registered due to the enticing rumored salaries of $2K-$2.5K,” Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Center for Global Policy, tweeted.

HIGHLIGHT

Armenian officials have long claimed that some Turkish troops remained in Azerbaijan recently after they went there for joint drilling activities.

Idlib post, a local news site in the Syrian Idlib province, also confirmed with a photo that a group of 300 fighters of the Syrian National Army left from the Syrian territories in the countryside of Aleppo to Azerbaijan via Turkey.
Award-winning journalist Lindsey Snell claimed that they were mainly selected from the Hamza division, a Syrian rebel group in northwestern Syria that has cooperated, as a proxy force, with the Turkish Armed Forces in military operations in northern Syria.
In the meantime, the official visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Ankara on Sunday was abruptly canceled.
Paul Antonopoulos, a regional expert, expects that Sunday’s clashes will end in a cease-fire after pressure from the EU, Russia, and perhaps even the US, to end hostilities.
“Armenia is a member state of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Eurasian military alliance led by Russia. This would likely deter Turkey from directly intervening militarily and thus the conflict will be contained between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, urged the international community to “use all of its influence to halt any possible interference by Turkey, which will ultimately destabilize the situation in the region.” He also said that Turkey’s behavior could have destructive consequences for the South Caucasus and neighboring regions.
Antonopoulos thinks that there is strong evidence that Turkey has transferred militants from northern Syria to Azerbaijan, and will likely use this proxy force in the same way that they were used in Libya.
“Turkey will unequivocally support Azerbaijan in every possible way they can bar a direct military intervention. Turkey’s strong diplomatic support for Azerbaijan will continue, as well as material and intelligence aid,” he said. “I would estimate that when there is enough international pressure to end the hostilities, Russia and Turkey will mediate together to bring a temporary end to the hostilities.”
Joseh Borrell Fontelles, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, spoke to ministers in Armenia and Azerbaijan on Sunday evening to urge an immediate cease-fire and called them to return to the negotiation table.
However, some pro-government journalists in Turkey called for the use of military force against Armenia to protect Azeri interests.
Ibrahim Karagul, the chief editor of one of the key pro-government newspapers, Yenisafak, advised the dropping of a “missile in the middle of Yerevan” to show Turkish solidarity for Azerbaijan, adding: “In this way, we can build a Caucasus Islam Army within 100 years.”