Iraqi militia leader meets US defence secretary following spate of Israeli attacks

Iraqi militia leader meets US defence secretary following spate of Israeli attacks
In a surprise visit, Iraqi politician Falih al-Fayyadh met with US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper in Washington.
3 min read
02 October, 2019
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper met with Iraqi politican Falih Alfayyadh [Getty]
Iraq's head of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) - a coalition of some 70, mostly Shia militias - met with US Defence Secretary Mark Esper in Washington on Wednesday.

Falih al-Fayyadh's visit comes a day after Iraq's prime minister directly blamed Israel for a series of airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed PMF forces in the country.

Al-Fayyadh is considered one of the more moderate voices in the PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi, and has sought to rein in calls to target US interests in Iraq made by factions loyal to Iran.

According to a brief statement released by his office, Alfayyadh met Esper in the presence of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and discussed the relationship between the two countries.

"They discussed Iraq's positive role in consolidating stability in the region and the need for this to continue," said a post on Al-Fayyadh's Facebook.

An employee in al-Fayyadh's office told The New Arab that Alfayyadh will travel to London next on a two-day visit.

Since mid-July, more than five PMF arms' depots and training camps have been targeted in apparent attacks. 

The latest such incident took place Friday when unidentified aircraft launched airstrikes on PMF bases near Syria's border.

The PMF have repeatedly blamed Israel for raids by unmanned aircraft, but on Monday, for the first time, Iraq's prime minister also accused Israel of being behind the attacks.

"Investigations into the targeting of some Popular Mobilisation Forces positions indicate that Israel carried it out," Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli military declined to comment on the Iraqi premier's remarks.

US and Middle East intelligence officials confirmed in August that a string of unclaimed attacks against the Shia militia bases in Iraq were carried out by Israel.

Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian targets in neighbouring Syria, but an expansion of the campaign to Iraq would risk damaging Washington's relations with Baghdad.

Israel has accused Tehran of attempting to establish a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon, via Iraq and Syria, and the strikes appear to correspondent with this alleged supply route.

[Click to enlarge]

Iran has a strong military and militia presence in Iraq and Syria and backs Lebanese movement Hezbollah.

The Iraq Report: Shia militias look into air defences against Israel

The PMF was established in 2014 from mostly-Shia armed groups and volunteers to fight the Islamic State group and is now formally part of Iraq's armed forces.

But the US and Israel fear some units are an extension of their arch-foe Iran and have been equipped with precision-guided missiles that could reach Israel. 

Agencies contributed to this report.

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab