Iran-backed Shiite parties and Iraq militias pledge support to Hamas

Iraq does not recognise the state of Israel, with the countries technically in a state of war

A shopping mall in Baghdad is illuminated with the Palestinian flag in solidarity with those in Gaza. Reuters
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Iran-backed Shiite political parties and militias in Iraq raised their rhetoric over Gaza-Israel conflict on Monday, warning the US that they would target its assets in the region if it intervened directly.

On Saturday, Hamas militants in Gaza launched “Operation Al Aqsa Flood”, the biggest attack on Israel in years. The surprise assault involved gunmen crossing the border from Gaza with a heavy barrage of rockets from the Palestinian enclave.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in three days of fighting in Israel and Gaza. About 700 have been killed in Israel, according to media reports, with at least 400 killed in Gaza. Thousands more have been injured.

"What is being achieved in Palestine are victories that have eluded all Arab armies," Hadi Al Amiri, the head of Badr Organisation which has an influential militia, told tribesmen on Monday.

"The Palestinian cause is the cause for [Iraqi] resistance actions," said Mr Al Amiri, who also heads the Fatah Alliance, a leading component of the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework which is now the largest bloc in Parliament.

"If the US will intervene in Palestine we will not hesitate to intervene and strike," he said.

His comments echoed a statement issued by the Kata'ib Sayyid Al Shuhada militia.

"We warn America if it directly intervenes in Gaza events," the group said. "If it directly intervenes all American presence in the region will become legitimate targets for the resistance axis."

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the Ford carrier strike group to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist Israel. The carrier and its approximately 5,000 sailors and deck of warplanes will be accompanied by cruisers and destroyers.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said US was looking into "specific additional requests" from Israel and could announce further military support.

'Peaceful demonstration'

Meanwhile, influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr called for a one-million-man demonstration in Baghdad on Friday to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

“The international terrorism has gathered against our beloved ones and our people in Palestine,” said Mr Al Sadr, who had pushed for an Iraqi law to criminalise normalisation with Israel.

“It is our duty we the Iraqis the resistance fighters against the American occupation and all supporters of the Palestinian cause to organise peaceful and unified one-million-man demonstration,” he said in a statement on Monday, calling for burning the Israeli flags and raising the Iraqi and Palestinian ones.

The demonstration in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square is meant to “amplify the voice of Jihad from our beloved Iraqi capital to reach the entire world”, he said.

State of war

Hours after the operation on Saturday, Shiite militias paraded Baghdad streets to show support for Hamas, waving Palestinian flags and praising them in song.

Some people brought sheep in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to slaughter in celebrations as others nearby set Israeli and US flags on fire. Palestinian flags were displayed on big screens.

“Salute to the champions of the Palestinian resistance,” read one banner in Baghdad's Tahrir Square.

“We are proudly following the victories achieved by the Palestinian resistance, which bring joy to the hearts of believers around the world,” the Popular Mobilisation Forces, a paramilitary group which is made up of mainly powerful Tehran-allied militias, said.

“Operation Al Aqsa Flood is the decisive response and the resounding rejection to all attacks by the Zionist occupation on Al Aqsa Mosque and our people in the occupied Jerusalem,” it added.

“At this historic moment, we declare our full support for our heroic brothers in the resistance and extended our hands to them, urging them to stand firm.”

Iraq does not recognise Israel as a state and both countries are technically still at war.

Iraq took part in the war following Israel's foundation in 1948 as well as the wars in 1967 and 1973.

It was the only Arab country that did not sign the ceasefire agreement that ended violent hostilities in 1949.

Israel has long considered Iraq a major security threat, particularly during Saddam Hussein’s rule from the late 1970s to 2003.

In 1981, Israel destroyed an unfinished nuclear reactor near Baghdad out of fear Iraq was developing nuclear weapons – a brazen air strike that took the world by surprise. Being at war with Iran at the time, Iraq did not retaliate.

During the 1991 Gulf War, launched by a US-led international coalition to oust Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait, Iraq attacked Israeli territory with Scud missiles.

Since 2003, Iraqi Shiite political parties and militias have been outspoken about Israel. In previous years, they accused Israel of carrying out air strikes inside Iraq against the militias bases or weapons depots.

The leader of the Asaib Ahl Al Haq militia, Qais Al Khazali, praised Hamas militants as “heroes”, adding that “we will continue monitoring the events, ready and not mere bystanders”.

Kataib Hezbollah group said the operation had “changed the military equation in a way that needs unity in confronting the enemy”.

The group is accused of kidnapping an Israeli-Russian researcher who has been missing for more than six months. Elizabeth Tsurkov, a PhD student at Princeton University in the US, was conducting research in Baghdad when she was kidnapped. She was last seen leaving a coffee shop in the Iraqi capital in March.

It is still unclear to what extent the Shiite militias will support Hamas.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani expressed support for Gaza and the Palestinian people and said the attack on Israel was a “natural result of the systematic oppression … at the hands of the Zionist occupation authority”.

In Baghdad’s Sunni district of Al Adhamiyah, a long banner decorated the clock tower of Abu Hanifa Mosque, reading: “Al Aqsa Flood”, the name of Saturday's operation from Hamas.

“I can’t describe my feelings since yesterday,” Yassin Mohammed Muslih, 72, a retired teacher, told The National.

“Those heroes gave us hope after all these years of humiliation and conspiracy. I’m optimistic about the future.”

He joined dozens of Iraqis on Sunday in a show of solidarity with Hamas.

Updated: October 09, 2023, 12:25 PM