Monday, 21 March 2016
Group fighting alongside Iraqi army says US must withdraw Marines or the militia will "deal" with them as an occupying foreign force
One of the deadliest Iranian-backed militias in Iraq has threatened to attack US troops deployed fighting the Islamic State (Isil) and "deal" with them as occupying forces.
The Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, known as the League of the Righteous, issued the warning after it emerged the US has deployed several hundred marines to aid Iraqi forces as they try to retake Mosul.
The US and the Shia militia are in theory on the same side against Isiland the threat underscores the complex web of alliances and antagonism among the forces fighting the jihadist movement.
"If the US administration doesn't withdraw its forces immediately, we will deal with them as forces of occupation," the League said on its TV channel, al-Ahd.
"The forces of occupation are making a new suspicious attempt to restore their presence in the country under the pretext of fighting their own creation, Daesh," the group said, using another name for Isil.
It is not clear if the League would actually follow through but the group played a major role in fighting Western forces after the US-led invasion in 2003 and is a powerful force within Iraq today.
The League was responsible for the kidnapping in May 2007 of British computer expert Peter Moore and his four bodyguards, in what turned out to be one of the worst kidnap crises in modern British history.
Mr Moore was eventually released in December 2009, while his four bodyguards - Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst, Alec MacLachlan, and Alan McMenemy - were killed in captivity.
Its fighters also shot down a British Lynx helicopter in Basra in 2006, killing five UK military personnel.
The militia is backed by Iran and operates under the supervision of Qassem Suleimani, a Revolutionary Guard general in charge of most of Iran's expeditionary missions in Syria and across the Middle East.
Members of the League have fought Isil in Iraq but also sent troops into Syria to fight alongside Hizbollah and the Assad regime against the Syrian opposition.
Between 2006 and 2011, the group claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks on US forces, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War.
The presence of US Marines in northern Iraq emerged only after a member of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was killed by a rocket attack on Saturday.
Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin was part of a force deployed to provide artillery support for Iraqi troops ahead of an operation to retake Mosul, according to CNN.
Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq and has been held by Isil since the summer of 2014.
The Iranian-backed Shia militias are watched warily by the US in Iraq.
They have repeatedly proved themselves to be more reliable fighters against Isil than the Iraqi military, which collapsed in the face of a jihadist offensive two years ago.
However, many of them are loyal to Tehran before Baghdad and their violence against Iraqis Sunnis has helped inflame sectarian tensions in Iraq.