A powerful Iran-backed Shiite militia in Iraq has warned the country’s US-backed prime minister, Mustafa Al Kadhimi, “not to test the resistance’s patience”, threatening him with assault and all-out conflict after tension rose at the weekend.
The “region is boiling and the possibility of a full-blown war is there,” Abu Ali Al Askari, a spokesman for the Kataib Hezbollah militia, said on Twitter.
Tension between the Iraqi government and Iran-backed paramilitaries have been building with the approach of the first anniversary of the US killing of Iran’s General Qassem Suleimani and a leading Iraqi militia leader. On Thursday night, dozens of fighters of the Asaib Ahl Al Haq militia were deployed in Baghdad in a show of force after Iraqi security forces arrested a member suspected of rocket attacks on the US Embassy.
In response, Mr Al Kadhimi toured Baghdad’s streets and threatened a “decisive confrontation if needed”.
Hours later, the leader of Asaib Ahl Al Haq, Qais Al Khazali, said the arrest was based on “malicious accusation” and that the issue had been solved.
Since taking office in May, Mr Al Kadhimi’s efforts to rein in militias have failed. In June, Iraq’s counterterrorism service arrested almost a dozen militiamen accused of attacking Baghdad’s Green Zone, the seat of key government offices and western diplomatic missions, but they were released few days later.
“Our alliance with the brothers in the resistance factions, whether local or foreign, is a strong one,” Al Askari said. What “harms them, harms us as well, and we are committed to defending them based on frameworks we agreed upon”, he said.
“We call on Al Kadhimi, the traitor, not to test the resistance’s patience from now onwards; the time is appropriate to cut his ears as the ears of a goat are cut,” he said.
The phrase referring to a goat’s ears is widely used in Iraq to warn someone they will be punished.
Kataib Hezbollah has accused Mr Al Kadhimi of collaborating with the US in the killing of Suleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis. The prime minister was director of Iraq’s intelligence service when a US drone attacked his convoy near Baghdad’s international airport on January 3.
Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq has no links to Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia.
Al Askari also said recent rocket attacks on US assets in Iraq “will benefit only our idiot enemy Trump and that must not be repeated”.
Iraq’s Iran-backed militias announced a ceasefire in October to allow the withdrawal of US forces from the country, but this was breached at least twice in the past month when rockets were fired towards the US Embassy in the Green Zone.
The Green Zone has been a frequent target for Sunni and Shiite militants since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.