International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on the night of June 25, 2020, Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Services (ICTS) launched a raid in Baghdad and arrested multiple members of the militia Kataib Hezbollah. The raid was triggered after one of the militia leaders threatened Prime Minister al-Kadhimi that he would lead forces into the Green Zone and siege governmental offices.
This militia is under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also referred to as the Hashid al-Shaabi, an Iranian-backed group that has been accused of multiple human rights violations. The PMF suffered a significant setback earlier this year when the US assassinated key leaders. The PMF also controls the Nineveh Plains, the home of Christians displaced by the Islamic State (ISIS). This raid represents the first significant attempt by Iraq’s current prime minister to control the militias, and has sparked a fresh wave of security tension.
“People believe Hashid is not going to lose the Nineveh Plains easily,” said one Christian after speaking with several Nineveh residents about the raid’s implications. These militias often create significant obstacles for rebuilding the Nineveh Plains, and thus any significant pushback on the militias is often met by residents with great caution regarding possible retaliation.
“Kadhimi promised that he will rid (Iraq) of militias and armed groups regardless under which cover they are,” observed an Iraqi Christian journalist. “He said weapons should be only under governmental authorities. This breaking (of the rule) results in arrests. Consider that from time to time the Green Zone and Baghdad Airport used to be under unknown rocket (attacks), but now we know who was doing that.”
“Those militias have no difference than ISIS. Actually, they are worse because they have power, influence, and politicians,” added a Baghdad Christian. “Hezbollah is doing exactly what ISIS did; that’s why the ICTS attacked them last night. The difference is that ISIS is based on some sort of theology while those Iranian militias pretend they are protecting you while they are stealing the country’s wealth.”
Iraqi Christian journalist Steven Nabil tweeted, “Military sources confirmed to me that nearly 600 armed group members (militias) arrived in Baghdad coming from the southern provinces. They had started their arrivals around 4:00 a.m. and continue doing so until now… White Toyota trucks filled with armed men wearing masks parading and threatening the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism units is not the way your militia will win hearts and minds.”
Many Christians have complained that historically an absence of law and a strong central government in Iraq have led to the rise of terrorist groups and other paramilitary forces. Iraq has faced significant international pressure within the last year to find ways which would solve these issues. But several Christians have expressed that while this desired outcome is necessary, the process would likely cause new and unpredictable security problems.
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “The militias which helped defeat ISIS have placed Iraq into a difficult position. These militias have become so empowered that many local Christians afterwards have commented that they see no practical difference between the militias and ISIS. The Iraqi Central Government is under pressure to find ways to control these militias, but the militias do not want to be controlled. This current situation is yet another example of how quickly tensions can flare in Iraq. It also shows the depth to which Iraqi Christians must constantly be on the defense as new potential threats against their existence continue to emerge.”