Iraq has released an Iran-related militia commander who was arrested in May on terrorist charges after authorities found insufficient evidence against him, as the latest blow to government attempts to contain armed groups.
On May 26, security forces arrested Qasim Muslih, who mainly operates in Iraq’s western Anbar province and is from the southern holy city of Kerbala. His arrest and subsequent release show how the Iraqi government is handling militias ideologically allied with Iran, charged with rocket fire against US forces and involvement in the killing of peaceful pro-democracy activists.
Hours after Muslih’s release, two separate rocket strikes struck near US forces and contractors on the grounds of Baghdad International Airport and an air base north of the Iraqi capital. There was no entitlement to the attacks.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has publicly opposed Iran-backed militias and political parties, but has failed to deliver on his pledges to curb anti-American attacks and bring demonstrators to justice.
The arrest of Muslih was seen as the latest major attempt to curb their power. His release without impunity is a setback to these efforts and one of several unsuccessful attempts to crack down on armed groups.
The military said the charges against him were terrorism but did not provide details.
Security officials told Reuters at the time of the arrest that the arrest was linked to attacks on US forces stationed in Iraq. Some media outlets and analysts said it was due to Muslih’s alleged involvement in the killing of activists.
Kadhimi’s two most prominent moves against Iran-backed factions – the arrest of Muslih in May and the detention of fighters allegedly involved in rocket fire against US targets – in June 2020 each resulted in no charges being brought and all those arrested released .
On both occasions, heavily armed militiamen stormed Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which is home to foreign embassies and government buildings, and threatened the prime minister.
Muslih commands the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Anbar Province and leads his own faction within the organization.
The PMF is the state paramilitary grouping of Iraq, which consists mainly of Shiite Muslim factions and is dominated by groups supported by Iran. Muslih is believed to be linked to Iran by Western and some Iraqi officials.
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