Iran-Backed Militia Calls U.S. Troops in Iraq “Legitimate Target”

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Dec 7, 2017
Iran-Backed Militia Calls U.S. Troops in Iraq “Legitimate Target”

Harakat al-Nujaba, an Iranian-sponsored Iraqi militia group fighting in Iraq and Syria, today threatened to attack American troops in Iraq and the broader region in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement yesterday about the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “Trump’s foolish decision to make Jerusalem the Zionist capital will spark a major uprising to excise this entity (Israel) from the body of the Islamic nation, and is a legitimate justification to target American troops,” said Akram al-Kaabi, the group’s leader, according to a .

Separately, Nujaba’s spokesman, Sayyed Hashem al-Musawi, , “It is upon the Islamic community to respond to the targeting of their sanctities if this decision is implemented.” According to , he described the U.S. plan to move its embassy to Jerusalem is a “hostile” act against Muslims, and added: “Nujaba calls on the Muslim world to take immediate action to stop Washington’s acts of bullying against the Palestinians and the sacred al-Quds (Jerusalem).”

In addition, , the spokesman of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, another Iranian-supported militia unit within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.), said in a statement that the transfer of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is an “aggressive” action aimed at all of Islam.  

Reacting to Trump’s speech, A.A.H.’s leader Qais al-Khazali yesterday called for armed struggle against America and Israel. "Trump’s decision to designate the capital of the occupying Zionist entity marks the beginning of the end of the racist Israeli entity. We call on all the free and faithful to unite in a single front to confront arrogant (powers) & enemies of humanity," .

Comment: Harakat al-Nujaba and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq are two prominent P.M.F. groups that take their orders more from Tehran than Baghdad. Leaders and commanders of the two group (the former is a splinter of the latter) engaged in attacks against American troops before the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. While Iranian-backed groups and the U.S. military were de facto allies in the war against ISIS over the past three years, tension is heightening up between the two recently as ISIS is militarily defeated. In recent months, the two groups have intensified anti-American rhetoric and propaganda and have repeatedly called on the Baghdad government to expel U.S. troops from the country.

After a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last month, entitled “,” commanders of the two groups have specifically threatened violence against the U.S. military and American interests in the region. The congressional bill would impose terrorism-related sanctions with respect to both groups.

In an on December 1, Akram al-Kaabi, the leader of the Nujaba movement, said the U.S. congressional bill “is an indication they [U.S.] fear us.” He continued: “If the Americans intend to reoccupy Iraq, we will fight them again. And if they commit a stupid mistake in Syria or Iraq against the Nujaba and resistance forces, we will deal a crushing blow to them and will target all their interests in the region. If the Syrian and Iraqi governments decide to confront America, we will proudly stand by their side.”

A.A.H. has a long history of fighting American troops in Iraq. According to the U.S. government , the Lebanese Hezbollah upon a request by the Iranian government helped form and train AAH in 2005 to carry out attacks against the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. Khazali has reportedly allegiance to Khamenei, and his group takes orders from Soleimani rather than the government in Baghdad. This is despite the fact that AAH is part of the P.M.F., which has been incorporated into the Iraqi security forces.

Khazali was arrested by the U.S. military in 2007 for his alleged role in high-profile attack in Karbala that had killed five American service members. But he was released two years later along with other AAH members – apparently in an for a British hostage. The U.S. and British government denied it was a prisoner exchange. Last year, Khazali that his fighters could blend in with Iraqi troops to kill American advisers in Mosul.

The Nujaba movement has also expressed readiness to help the Lebanese Hezbollah in a potential fight against Israel in the future. In March, Nujaba the creation of a new brigade to seize the Golan Heights – claiming that “latest victories” against the Islamic State and Sunni rebels in Iraq and Syria have allowed the group and its allies to focus on Israel. Leaders of the group claimed that members of the new brigade are highly-trained, well-equipped and capable of fighting the Jewish state. “Israel is weaker than a spider web. Islamic resistance is capable of confronting the axis of evil and annihilating the occupying Zionist regime,” Kaabi told Lebanon-based Arabic-language al-Mayadeen news network.