Iraq launches operation against IS, anti-US militias in Baghdad
The Iraqi army on Thursday morning launched an operation against remnants of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in the northern suburbs of Baghdad.
A statement from the Iraqi government said that “Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi ordered the implementation of a large-scale operation in the north of Baghdad”.
The statement added that the controversial Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia group, which has previously been accused of sectarian killings, would take part in the operation, as well as Iraqi special forces, federal police, and air support units.
Security sources said that the operation would not only target IS but militias who have previously targeted American bases with rockets. In January a US airstrike killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi PMF leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandes following a series of rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias targeting American bases in Iraq.
Last week Iraqi authorities detained 14 alleged militia members for involvement in rocket attacks but freed most of them within a few days for lack of evidence.
Baghdad is relatively calm compared to northern and central provinces of Iraq which were formerly controlled by IS.
An officer from the Baghdad Operations Command, who preferred to remain anonymous told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that the new operation would focus on suburbs and rural areas north of Baghdad where “armed factions are present”. He said that the operation would “comb and survey wide areas of agricultural land where armed factions maneuver and strike the Taji Airbase, where American soldiers are located, and other American facilities”.
“The operation also aims to cleanse the area of any remnants of IS”, the officer added, saying that the militias operating in the area had fixed bases, but were not registered as part of the PMF militia coalition.
Adel Al-Obeidi, an Iraqi security expert, told The New Arab’s Arabic service that Baghdad needed a stronger military presence to stop rocket attacks, noting that pro-Iran militias had stepped up their anti-US rhetoric and issued threats recently.
“Baghdad is safer from IS actions than the liberated areas, which see constant violence, but the threat facing the capital is from uncontrolled militias. The government must strengthen the military presence in the capital, particularly in areas where rockets are launched at American bases,” he said.