23 Aug Iran-Backed Militia Claims Attack on ‘Enemy’ Drone as Its I…
An Iran-backed militia in Iraq announced late Thursday that it attempted to “repel an enemy spy drone” over one of its bases in Baghdad before the aircraft “aborted its mission” and withdrew.
Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) reported in a Twitter post that its 12th Brigade — an alias of the Harakat al-Nujaba (HAN) militia — spotted and shot at the spy craft, using the hashtags “Prepared to Respond” and “No Place For Your Birds.” HAN, however, reported that the drone was shot down.
The news comes in light of a New York Times report that Israel carried out one of the recent airstrikes against weapon depots of Iran-backed militias that could further complicate relations between the United States and Iraq.
HAN and its leader Akram ‘Abbas al-Kabi were sanctioned by the U.S. State Department on March 5 for their close ties to, and support of, Hizballah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. A number of HAN brigades, which were operating in Syria, were also identified the same day by the U.S. Treasury Department as aliases of the group.
The sanctions were imposed amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, — with Iraq caught in the middle of the conflict. Washington is committed to “isolate and deny funding to the Iranian regime’s terrorist proxies,” the U.S. State Department said in March. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke in June with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, thanking him for Iraq’s efforts to counter Iran-backed militias, according to a State Department readout. A HAN leader said Aug. 6 that the group would overthrow any government in Baghdad that opposes Iran within weeks.
HAN, founded in 2013, was launched to defend Shia shrines and holy places, especially in Syria and Iraq, according to its website. The group is also a “delegated organization” in the Iraqi government’s PMF, an umbrella group of militias, according to the PMF website. Some Iraqi groups under the PMF have failed to comply with a July 31 deadline from Iraqi Prime Minister Mahdi, who decreed that the militias must fully integrate into the Iraqi military.
Al-Kabi was also sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2008 for leading attacks against the Iraqi government and coalition forces. Kharon profiled HAN in March.
FROM THE BATTLEFIELD TO THE MEDIA
Over the last two years, HAN expanded its focus in Iraq by establishing charitable institutions and media outlets in the country. In early 2018, HAN established the ‘Umme Abiha Education Institute, an academy that provides “advanced military training” and Islamic teaching, according to a report by the militia.
HAN launched a charity in Iraq in April 2018, named the Marabat al-Nujaba Foundation for the Support of Martyrs’ Families. Led by HAN public relations official Arkan al-Kabi, it focuses on providing services to orphans and families of the martyrs of the PMF.
In addition to its charitable foundations, HAN has developed a media infrastructure to promote the group’s messaging throughout Iraq and the region, using the networks to speak out on regional political issues, including the recent rise in tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
HAN runs a satellite channel out of Iraq, in addition to websites and social media accounts catering to Iraqi citizens. HAN controls al-Nujaba TV, which was identified by the Treasury as an alias of the group. Iranian government funds played a role in the creation of the station, according to a 2017 Reuters report. Kharon profiled al-Nujaba TV in a January report on Iran’s influence campaigns abroad.
Bashar Saad Abdul Redha al-Saadi is a manager at al-Nujaba TV, according to a social media profile associated with him. Al-Saadi is also a staff member of HAN’s War Media department which Akram al-Kabi described as the “institutionalization of the Resistance Culture.”
Al-Saadi was also a manager at two other Iraq-based media entities, al-Farqadain TV and Al-Khaleej Cultural Company, according to information distributed by both organizations. Al-Farqadain TV in 2017 won an award “in a ceremony honoring the channels that support the PMF,” according to al-Saadi’s social media profile. Several people are employees of both al-Farqadain TV and HAN’s War Media Department, Kharon found, based on the social media profiles of the individuals.
HAN in late May commemorated World Quds Day by releasing a music video, marking the latest expansion of the sanctioned Iran-backed Iraqi militia’s activities beyond the battlefield.
The holiday, created by Iran and held at the end of Ramadan in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, is celebrated across the Arab world. HAN’s video, titled “Latitude 32” (the geographic coordinates of Tel Aviv), features a reenactment of a battle in which HAN defeats the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and then takes control of the Golan Heights, according to HAN’s Farsi-language website.