Explainer: Who was 'Abu Taqwa', the Iraqi militia head assassinated by the US?

Explainer: Who was 'Abu Taqwa', the Iraqi militia head assassinated by the US?
Senior Iraqi commander 'Abu Taqwa' was killed in a US airstrike on Thursday, an act the US has described as 'self defence' - who was he?
3 min read
05 January, 2024
The US' assassination of Abu Taqwa was met with anger across Iraq's political spectrum [Getty]

"Abu Taqwa", the head of an Iran-linked, Iraqi militia, was assassinated in a US drone strike near Baghdad on Thursday.

Harakat al-Nujaba and other Iran-aligned militias have conducted a string of attacks on US bases across Iraq since Israel launched a brutal war on Gaza on 7 October.

Iran-aligned militias have escalated their attacks in recent months due to US backing for the war.

In light of the continuous escalation, calls are growing louder for soldiers from the US-led coalition to leave the country - something the Iraqi government has said that it is working towards.

Who was Abu Taqwa?

Mushtaq Taleb al-Saeedi, better known as Abu Taqwa, was a senior military commander in the Iran-linked Iraqi militia Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, which formed the 12th Brigade of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

The PMF is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organisation composed of some 40 militias that are predominantly Shia-dominated with close links to Iran.

Abu Taqwa, 43, was deputy leader of the PMF's Baghdad Belt operations and was purportedly involved in the distribution of Iranian weapons stored in Baghdad, as well as being in charge of security in Al-Tarmia district of the city.

A source close to the slain commander said he was in Syria just days before he was killed and that he was responsible for al-Nujaba’s recent operations against US bases in both Iraq and Syria.

About two-thirds of attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria since 17 October have been attributed to the group.

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Abu Taqwa had close ties to former PMF leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed in a US strike alongside top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.

Who is Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujuba?

The al-Nujaba Movement and has been held responsible for an array of attacks on US interests in Iraq.

Washington deems the group the most hardline of the PMF coalition factions and designated it a terrorist organisation in 2019.

There are around 11,000 fighters in the militia which has close links to Esmail Qaani, who succeeded Soleimani as commander of the Quds Force.

How was he killed?

On Thursday, a missile fired by an unmanned drone struck a car near the headquarters of the 12th Brigade killed at least two people - Abu Taqwa and his bodyguard.

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The operation took place in east Baghdad on Palestine Street, where the group is headquartered. An Iraqi official, who wished to remain anonymous, said his car was tracked and then targeted after entering the headquarters.

The US later confirmed it killed Abu Taqwa as an act of "self-defense" due to his militia's alleged role in attacks on American troops.

What has been the response?

The assassination has been met with fury across the political spectrum in Iraq, with many calling for US troops to be expelled from the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani swiftly condemned the strike as "a dangerous escalation and assault", and his office has since issued a statement affirming that his government is working to set a deadline to "permanently end the presence of international coalition forces" in Iraq.

Iraq’s President, Abdel Latif Rashid, also condemned the aggression, noting that it constituted "a breach" of "Iraq's sovereignty and security, and clearly violated the relationship between Iraq and the international coalition, as well as the frameworks and justifications for which the coalition was created".

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Before the US claimed responsibility for the attack, Kazem Al-Fartusi, spokesman for the Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada - another Iran-linked militia - told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site: "The aggression against Hashd (PMF) is distinctly American, and this is the price of supporting Gaza and our people in Palestine".