Arrests in Karbala targeting cell accused of killing Iraqi activists

Arrests in Karbala targeting cell accused of killing Iraqi activists
Iraqi security forces have detained two more people in the ongoing probe into a campaign targeting activists.
3 min read
29 May, 2021
Security forces have made new arrests in the probe [Getty]

At least two people have been arrested on suspicion of targeting activists in Karbala, according to The New Arab’s Arabic language service Al Araby Al Jadeed.

Iraqi security forces managed to detain the two after receiving information from a suspect arrested last week.

A third person, said to be Hassan Mesbah, a leader in the Tafuf militia group, fled his home during a raid by special forces, the report added, citing a security source in Karbala.

The source confirmed security forces around the country are on the lookout for Mesbah to prevent his escape out of Iraq.

Tensions are growing in Baghdad following the arrest of a powerful Iraqi paramilitary leader under the country's anti-terrorism law.

Qasem Muslih, a local commander in the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a network of Iran-backed, mostly Shia Muslim militias, is accused of targeting leading pro-democracy activists.

PMF factions have been accused of a wave of murders of pro-democracy activists and journalists since protests erupted in 2019, as well as the sectarian killing and the mass displacement of Sunni Muslims.

Muslih is accused of giving the order to kill anti-government campaigner Ihab Al-Wazni, who was shot outside his home by men on motorbikes on 9 May in the holy city of Karbala, as well as Fahim Al-Taie, an activist who was killed in December 2019.

The killing of Al-Wazni had sparked deadly protests calling for an end to official impunity.

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Muslih’s arrest is said to be tied to his alleged involvement in recent attacks on Ain Al-Assad air base, which hosts foreign - including US - troops.

Fearing reprisals from armed groups, Iraqi forces and counter-terrorism troops have been deployed to guard key government facilities in Baghdad, including the office of Iraqi PM Mustapha Al-Kadhimi.

Officials are on high alert over possible reprisal attacks on US-led coalition forces and assets in the country. On Thursday, an IED struck a coalition logistics convoy in southern Iraq.

A member of Iraq's parliamentary council who spoke to Al Araby Al Jadeed service on a condition of anonymity, explained the fears.

"It is expected that [armed] groups will respond to Muslih's arrest and that they’ll escalate attacks on US interests and the Green Zone," they said.

The official pointed to Al-Kadhimi's order to indefinitely bolster security in and around the heavily fortified government zone.

This included instructions for the nighttime mobilisation of troops and the closure of several key roads.

While the trial of individuals and groups thought to behind the killings of activists has long been a demand of Iraq’s anti-government protesters, pro-Iran factions see Musleh's arrest as an overture to the US.

Tehran-backed militias are believed to be behind attacks on Washington’s forces and assets in Iraq, with the aim of driving coalition troops out of the country.

Meanwhile, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Iraq Jeanine Hennes Blashardt also warned the country could slide into an abyss if unknown armed actors continue engaging in violence.

Blashardt said in a televised interview, that "Any unknown armed party targeting citizens or foreigners in Iraq is something that should be well thought out”, noting it undermines the state, and it will not help citizens find opportunities in the future”.