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Iraq’s PMU denies strike on fighters as US mounts attacks on anti-terror group

Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) has denied a fresh US airstrike targeted its fighters as the United States steps up attacks on the counter-terrorism paramilitary group in the Arab country.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the PMU said no medical convoys had been targeted in Taji, north of the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, early in the morning. 

In an earlier statement, the group also known as Hashd al-Sha’abi had reported an strike on its vehicles carrying medics, not senior leaders as some media outlets reported. 

It came ahead of a planned mourning march for Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the PMU’s second-in-command, who were assassinated in a precision drone strike by the US on the Baghdad International Airport road on Friday.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the US-led coalition tweeted, “FACT: the coalition … did not conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days.”

This came almost 24 hours after the martyrdom of Soleimani and  Muhandis in the vicious US operation, for which Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh revenge.”

Commander of Iran’s Quds Force, PMU deputy head martyred in US strike

Commander of Iran’s Quds Force, PMU deputy head martyred in US strikeThe director of public relations of pro-government Hashd al-Sha’abi forces has been killed after three Katyusha rockets fell on Baghdad International Airport.

Both commanders were admired by Muslim nations for eliminating the US-sponsored Daesh terrorist group in the region.

Separately on Friday, after the assassination of the Soleimani and Muhandis, the US State Department announced plans to designate Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq group, which is part of Iraq’s Hashd al-Sha’abi, as “a foreign terrorist organization.”

The State Department also noted that it had designated the group’s leader, Qais al-Khazali, and his brother Laith, as specially designated global terrorists.

It further claimed that Asaib Ahl al-Haq is “extensively funded and trained” by the IRGC’s Quds Force.

The new designations reinforce sanctions imposed on the pair last month.

US blacklists three Iraqi Hashd al-Sha’abi leaders

US blacklists three Iraqi Hashd al-Sha’abi leadersThe US has slapped sanctions on three leaders of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a group that has cooperated with the national army in counter-terrorism operations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged that Asaib Ahl al-Haq and its leaders “use violence and terror to further” what he called the Iranian government’s efforts to “undermine Iraqi sovereignty.”

The recent illegal measures taken by Washington, including assassinating the most effective figures fighting Daesh and blacklisting counter-terrorism groups, are widely interpreted as desperate attempts by the US to exert pressure on the Iraqi government and sideline the PMU.

The US is frustrated with political developments in Iraq, where it has spent billions of dollars to nurture Takfiri terrorist groups.

During the recent unrest in Iraq, Washington was said to be a member of “the third party” responsible for the killing of anti-government demonstrators.

The protests led to the resignation of pro-Iran Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. However, he still assumes a caretaker role.

The Fatah (Conquest) alliance, the political arm of Hashd al-Sha’abi which is led by Hadi al-Amiri, holds 48 seats at the Iraqi parliament, the second largest bloc at the 329-seat legislature.

Hashd al-Sha’abi is against the presence of American troops on the Iraqi soil and wants their withdrawal.

In November 2016, the Iraqi parliament recognized Hashd al-Sha’abi as an official force with similar rights as those of the regular army, therefore legally establishing it as part of the National Armed Forces.

In July 2019, Abdul-Mahdi issued a decree that further integrated Hashd al-Sha’abi into the country’s armed forces.

“In the interest of the public good and as per the powers granted to us by the constitution … the following is decreed: all Popular Mobilization Forces are to operate as an indivisible part of the armed forces and be subject to the same regulations,” read the decree.

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