US airstrikes Sunday targeted locations in Anbar, Iraq, as well as four other locations in Iraq and Syria. The attacks targeted a Katai’b Hezbollah military site, killing 27 and injuring 51.
The Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah, a paramilitary group part of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) umbrella group, was one of the popular grassroots militias that played a major role in fighting ISIS in Iraq after the PMU’s formation in 2014.
According to the US, the strikes were in response to attacks near US military bases over the past couple months. The latest attack, US officials say, killed an American contractor based near Kirkuk Friday.
The PMU denied involvement in the attack, having instead successfully repelled an ISIS attack near Samarrah that same day.
Yet the directly unprovoked attack was a rash move by the US in striking a bastion of what they consider to be iranian influence in the region. In the years following the PMU’s pushback of ISIS from the region, the US has worked to undermine and thwart the country’s defense forces.
Right away, the PMU released a statement calling the move an “attack on Iraqi sovereignty,” vowing a retaliation against the attack.
Iraqi Caretaking Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi called for three days of “public mourning” for the Iraqi martyrs of the US attack following the “unjust assault.”
The US Embassy in Baghdad was the target of massive Tuesday morning demonstrations following mourning processions for those martyred Sunday by the American aggression . The protestors stormed the embassy and even set portions on it on fire, setting up tents as part of a general sit-in aimed at continuing until the embassy is closed and diplomats are sent out of the country.
The act signifies a new direction in Iraqi popular sentiment, with different factions of the country united in opposing the latest US attack on Kata’ib Hezbollah. The Kata’ib, a paramilitary group that comprises one of the 45 groups under the PMU umbrella, is incredibly popular and reputed for being the prime faction in defeating ISIS’s hold on the country.
Following the attack, multiple factions of Iraqi leadership came out and condemned the US attack.
The office of Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned the “criminal attack.” Sistani was the target of an assassination attempt October 4th amidst the anti-government demonstrations in Iraq that erupted early that month.
Even Muqtada al-Sadr, Shiite cleric leader of the Sadr movement, who had championed a recent anti-Iranian stance, joined in calling for US troops to leave Iraq.
He added that the “occupation, led by Trump, took advantage of the corruption in Iraq on the one hand and the large gap between politicians and the people on the other hand,” in a general anti-interventionist call that was especially directed at the US’s role in Iraq.
Sadr even disclosed his willingness to work with the Iran-allied PMU to expel US troops from the country.
The US and Saudi Arabia have had a hand in stroking certain currents of the anti-government protests that began in Iraq in October. Much of the violence at this time has been directed against Iranian targets and sensationalizing anti-Iran sentiment, with little media attention given to anti-US and anti-occupation currents. The Iraqi response to the US attacks against the PMU represented a consolidated and unified stance against the US occupation.
The stance against US aggression additionally transgresses attempts at sowing discord amongst Iraqis and inciting inter-sectarian tensions amongst Iraqi Shiites that had represented the United States and Saudi Arabia’s aims and influence in the protests.
US doesn’t cease occupation
Despite the US’s attempts to claim the attack against the Kata’ib Hezbollah as a defensive strike, the US remains adamant about prolonging the occupation of Iraq.
Following the Sunday US attacks, Secretary Pompeo took to Twitter to announce his talks with ‘Israeli’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nayhan, and even UN Secretary General Antonio Gueterres to justify the US attacks as “deterring Iran and protecting American lives.”
Yet the US’s refusal to pull troops out of Iraq and clearing of airspace to assist ‘Israel’ in the September airstrikes against the PMU has signaled to Iraqis a clear intent to thwart any semblance of political as well as military sovereignty for Iraqis in the country.
In fact, the US response to Tuesday’s embassy attacks included an additional deployment of 100 marines to reinforce the embassy as US helicopters commanded protesting Iraqis to leave the premises of the embassy.
Despite the calls from Iraqi President Barham Saleh for protestors to leave the premises of the US embassy, many Iraqi paramilitary and resistance groups upheld a position of defense against US aggression.
Saleh had threatened a resignation Friday should an Iranian allied coalition assume the role of premier, blocking attempts for nominees to put forth nominees for Prime Minister.
The Samarra-based commander of the PMU on Tuesday condemned the attacks, warning that they would “not stand idly by” in the face of American assaults on Iraq.
In uniting the popular currents of Iraq divided amidst the US-backed currents in the Iraq anti-government protests that began in October, the US is already witnessing the backfiring of its attack on the PMU, a people’s resistance movement that encompasses Kata’ib Hezbollah as forces popular for their defense of Iraqis against ISIS.
Whereas Iraqis, especially Shiites from the south of the country where the unrest has been concentrated, have found themselves increasingly divided in the course of the protests, the response to the US assault have effectively unified the Shiite segments against the common occupier.
In the last year, the gradual integration of the PMU into a national resistance force has come to eclipse the US-backed units of the Iraqi army. After the US dissolved the Iraqi army in 2003, they spent $20 billion on restructuring Iraq’s defense between 2003 and 2011.
These factions of the army, which include the US-backed Counterterrorism Units and Iraqi Special Operations Forces, or the Golden Division, have been ineffective in pushing back ISIS and helpful in maintaining US hegemony in Iraq.
In November 2016, the Iraqi parliament voted to integrate the PMU into the Iraqi military.