The Kataib Hezbollah armed faction in Iraq warned the Iraqi government against repeating the arrest of prominent commanders of the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
It also called on the government to arrest whom it described as “aggressors” in wake of the detention and eventual release of prominent PMF commander Qassim Muslih.
Muslih was arrested in late May over his suspected involvement in the killing of prominent anti-government activist Ihab al-Wazni. He was released last week after much political pressure and escalation by the PMF. Head of Iran’s Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani had also visited Baghdad last week to ease the tensions.
A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, known as Abou Ali al-Askari, tweeted that Muslih’s arrest in the first place was a “spiteful” move by the government.
He warned “the traitor” – a reference to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi – against repeating such a move “otherwise we will not return to our positions before the aggressors are behind bars.”
Muslih was released after a settlement was reached between the factions and government in return to an end to the escalation. Political sources said he was freed after massive political pressure was exerted.
Notably, Askari seemed to snub Iran, when he warned the government that “friends, neither east nor west,” will come to its aid should it repeat the arrest.
Informed sources said that the Kataib Hezbollah and other factions are gunning for General Ahmed Abou Ragheef, the officer who ordered Muslih’s arrest.
The armed factions have been wary of Abou Ragheef ever since Kadhimi tasked him in August 2020 with handling the “extraordinary crimes” committee that is in charge of investigating corruption cases.
Abou Ragheef had served as interior minister in 2008. He was relieved of his post by then PM Nouri al-Maliki after mounting suspicions that he was planning a military coup against the government. He was appointed as director of intelligence affairs in former PM Haidar al-Abadi’s government. Kadhimi then promoted him to become one of his most senior officers.
Months ago, Abou Ragheef launched a wave of arrests against corrupt politicians and government figures. Despite coming under fierce criticism from his opponents, Kadhimi continued to place his trust in Abou Ragheef.
The officer’s efforts have so far uncovered a vast network of suspicious alliances between Iraqi leaders, armed factions and organized crimes gangs.
The situation eventually came to a head with Muslih’s arrest.
Some armed factions want to eliminate Abou Ragheef “permanently” because of their growing conviction that he will not stop until he reaches the top Shiite positions of power.
A “significant” source from the PMF revealed that a new order of arrests will be made soon.
A PMF commander in Najaf city told Asharq Al-Awsat that factions such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq want to exploit the Muslih crisis to punish Abou Ragheef.
“These factions are not exactly pleased with the Iranian maneuvers and settlements in the Iraqi file. They want to make actual moves against Kadhimi,” he revealed, adding however, that such a position is not shared by all Shiite groups.