Citing insufficient evidence, the Iraqi military has released Qasim Muslih an Iranian proxy militia commander arrested on May 26, government officials said on Wednesday.

Iraqi Security Forces had arrested Muslih, who commands the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq’s western Anbar province, on what was said were charges under the country’s anti-terrorism law. He was brought before a joint investigative committee to answer questions about his involvement in several events.

Muslih Could Be Linked to a Number of Attacks

Muslih was questioned about the recent attacks on the Ain al-Asad airbase that houses the U.S. and coalition troops. The base has been struck four times by rockets and drones in May. 

However, Iraqi security officials were quoted by the AFP as saying that Muslih’s arrest was tied to the arrest and extrajudicial killing of two Iraqi social activists. Muslih reportedly gave the order to kill Ehab al-Wazni on May 9 and Fahim al-Taie on December 2019. 

Ehab al-Wazni, an Iraqi activist protesting against Iranian influence in Iraq, was assassinated by two men.

Al-Wazni, who was active in organizing the protests in Iraq in October 2019, was shot dead outside his home by two men on a motorcycle. His murder was caught by surveillance cameras. Al-Wazni’s mother said that he’d been threatened by the Iranian proxies.

More than 600 activists, many protesting the undue Iranian influence in Iraq, have been killed; 35 of them were killed after being targeted for assassination in 82 different events.

The Iraqi Government Has Been Powerless to Rein in the PMF Militias

The militias are supposed to be part of the Iraqi military but frequently act on orders from Tehran. The PMF include mostly Shi’ite Muslim factions and are dominated by Iranian proxy groups.

In 2020, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi attempted to rein in the militias, but his efforts were met with defiance and threats.

In an incident illustrating the power of the militia, in June last year, Iraqi security forces raided a stronghold compound of Kata’ib Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed militia, in Baghdad and arrested more than a dozen members of the group. Shortly after the raid, Kata’ib Hezbollah gunmen drove vehicles towards government buildings in the Green Zone demanding the release of the militiamen. Most of the men were released within hours.

The U.S. sees the PMF and the Shia militias as the biggest threat in the region, and Muslih is seen as being more loyal to Iran than to his own government.

PMF militias have conducted more than 30 attacks on U.S. bases, convoys, and the U.S. Embassy since the beginning of the year.

Iraqi protesters burn tires in the PMF run area of Baghdad. many of the protesters were killed by the militia recently (Reuters)

Following the arrest of Qasem Muslih, gunmen from the militias, using the same playbook as last year, drove vehicles around the fortified Green Zone as a show of force, a security source said. And like a year ago, the end result was the same. The Kadhimi government and the Iraqi security forces are powerless to rein in the Iranian proxy militias.

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