The names of new, unknown groups have recently appeared on the Iraqi scene declaring their opposition to the United States in light of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) stopping attacks on US interests in Iraq.
With the apparent reluctance of the PMF, which is loyal to Tehran, to target the American forces, the names of groups such as Ahl al-Kahf (People of the Cave) appeared and issued threats against the American presence in Iraq through Telegram, threatening to launch attacks with roadside bombs and speaking of the beginning of a new era in Iraq.
Ahl al-Kahf claimed attacks with explosive devices since March 2020 and a missile attack on the US embassy in November 2020, and it recently claimed responsibility for the killing of an American citizen in central Baghdad, saying in a statement that the killing of the American came in retaliation for the killing of late Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani and deputy PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were assassinated in an American strike near Baghdad Airport in January 2020.
The majority of the attacks of the pro-Iranian factions in Iraq focused on convoys belonging to the American forces, even while they were transporting their equipment to withdraw from Iraq.
Attacks have previously been attributed to unknown factions, but it was discovered that they belong to factions in the Popular Mobilization Forces, such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and the Kataib Hezbollah.
This interdependence was revealed when the Ahl al-Kahf group joined a campaign to release one of the militia’s members and confirmed its willingness to take to the street if Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq ordered it. Three new names also appeared for unknown militias, namely the Al-Sabireen Brigades, Karbala Brigades, and Kataib Sayfullah. They did not launch any attacks or announce their presence in a specific geographical area, but the common denominator among them all was their criticism of the Iraqi government’s failure to set a timetable for the American withdrawal from Iraqi territory.
Kataib Hezbollah also announced in a statement online that a fourth unnamed group might unveil a surprise that would “expel the occupiers.”
Imaginary separation from PMF
It is worth noting that the most prominent media outlets affiliated with Iranian-backed militias, such as Sabereen News, which were strongly supportive of the Popular Mobilization Forces, did not provide any significant support for the three new aforementioned brigades, and this may mean being keen to give the impression of separating them from the PMF, which is nominally affiliated with the Iraqi government, despite its known loyalty to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The PMF groups loyal to Tehran fear American retaliation similar to the military attacks launched by the United States on their bases earlier in Syria and Iraq after carrying out attacks on American interests. Therefore, they resort to hiding behind new facades that adopt their rhetoric, announce their pursuit of the same goals, and evade responsibility by assigning it to the newly declared armed groups, the existence of which is doubtful in the first place.
Iraqi version of the Revolutionary Guard
The recent huge official celebration of the ninth anniversary of the founding of the Shiite PMF in Iraq, as well as reducing most of the victories over ISIS to the efforts of the PMF without the Iraqi armed forces receiving the same praise, indicates that the PMF began to transform into a new version of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard with its ideological and military structure, in addition to its financial and even judicial independence, as it appears as a force independent of the army and more powerful than when is was said to have been integrated into the regular forces.
The decision to move the PMF factions to camps outside the cities, with praise for the role of these pro-Iranian militias, perhaps indicates a government fear of the influence and encroachment of these militias, which in the war against ISIS turned into a heavily armed force that enjoys political cover and the support of Iran, and therefore, Baghdad cannot impose its control over it.