Iran-backed militants in Iraq launch 'Sharia youth groups'

Iran-backed militants in Iraq launch 'Sharia youth groups'
2 min read
18 November, 2020
'Little known' groups could be linked to the pro-Iran, US-proscribed terrorist organisation Iraqi Hezbollah, posing a 'threat' to the country's existence.
Young Iraqis have been plagued by poverty due to the country’s unstable economy. [Getty]

Armed Iraqi vigilante groups have been accused of "attacking" shops selling alcohol in the capital Baghdad with the growing influence of religious youth groups in the country, according to reports.

These "little known" groups could be linked to the pro-Iran, US-proscribed terrorist organisation Kataeb Hezbollah, or Iraqi Hezbollah, which are accused of "posing a danger for Iraq's future", Al Monitor reported.

Most recently, these groups have been linked to a blaze at the Baghdad offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, attacks on media outlets and targeting US interests in Iraq.

"This new-formed group is calling itself Rabaa Allah, and it has been fast-evolving alongside with other 3 main groups affiliated with it," the report said.

"Observers say that some religious youth groups apparently connected with them should be watched closely."

A live broadcast by the Kataeb Hezbollah-linked Al-Etejah channel was posted on YouTube capturing the inaugural ceremony of the "Sharia Youth Gathering".

The newly formed group held a giveaway of prized items such as tuk-tuks - scooter-like modes of transport that became widely used during the nationwide protests last year.

Analysts say this was an attempt to incentivise young Iraqis to join the group, amid a period of high unemployment and extreme poverty.

The founding of the youth group could be a strategy "to enable a plausible denial" of attacks by pro-Iran militia groups that are officially linked to the government, the report states.

In July, the government attempted to arrest members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a coalition of mostly pro-Iran, Shia militias, who were accused of destroying the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s headquarters.

The militants then organised a convoy of around 100 pick-up trucks, loaded with armed men, that drove through the Green Zone outside the premier's official residence, demanding the release of their comrades.

The prime minister promptly agreed to this, demonstrating the power of the Iran-backed militia groups.

These Iraqi groups hope that the US president-elect Joe Biden could roll back some of Donald Trump's policies in Iraq, which have included slapping sanctions on hardline Shia militants accused of killing protesters and attacks on US bases.

"Trump's era was a very negative one, a period of demolition," said Mohammad Mohyi, spokesman for Kataeb Hezbollah.

"We hope the new administration will resolve this by ending the crisis and withdrawing its troops," he told AFP.

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