Radical Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr said that US troops supporting the Iraqi military’s offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State should be targeted by his militias.
Sadr, who openly fought US troops several times during the US occupation, made the statement in response to a question from a follower on how they should respond to the US military’s deployment of additional troops to aid Iraqi forces in retaking Mosul.
“They are a target for us,” Sadr said on his website, according to Reuters.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced last week that the US military would send 560 more troops to Iraq to capitalize on recent Iraqi military success in Qayarra south of Mosul.
“These additional US forces will bring unique capabilities to the campaign and provide critical enabler support to Iraqi forces at a key moment in the fight,” Carter said on July 12 during a visit to Baghdad.
Sadr has previously said his Peace Brigades was preparing to deploy to Mosul to fight the Islamic State.
In the past, Sadr has threatened to attack US forces operating in Iraq against the Islamic State. In May 2015, Sadr said he was prepared to unleash his militia and target US personnel inside Iraq and beyond if the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would have recognized Kurdistan and Sunnis in western Iraq as their own independent countries.
“If the time comes and the proposed bill is passed, we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the American entity so that it may start targeting American interests in Iraq and outside of Iraq when possible,” Sadr said. “If America persists then it will cease to exist.”
Sadr controls two militias inside Iraq: the Saraya al Salam, or Peace Brigades, and the Liwa al Yaom al Mawood, or Promised Day Brigade. Both groups are offshoots of the Mahdi Army, Sadr’s militia that fought US forces in pitched battles in Baghdad and central and southern Iraq between 2004 and 2008. Sadr purportedly disbanded the Mahdi Army in the spring of 2008 after US forces battled the group in Baghdad’s sprawling neighborhood of Sadr City, and created the Promised Day Brigade. Saraya al Salam was formed in 2014 to combat the Islamic State as Iraqi forces in northern, central, and western Iraq disintegrated in its wake.
In February 2015, he purportedly suspended the activities of the two militias, however the groups have been spotted fighting in Iraq since then. Sadr also frequently claimed to have halted the activities of the Mahdi Army during the US occupation, but these ceasefires rarely held.
While Sadr has denied receiving Iranian support, the US military and government consistently contended that his militias have the backing of Qods Force, the special operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp. US military officials called the Iranian-backed militias who battled American forces up until 2011, such as Hezbollah Brigades and Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), the Mahdi Army Special Groups.
With the backing of Qods Force, Sadr’s militias maintain the ability to strike US interests in the Gulf region and the Levant.
Iran backs multiple Shiite militias that are fighting the Islamic State, all of which are hostile to the US. One of these groups, Hezbollah Brigades, is listed by the US as a Foreign Terror Organization, while senior leaders in others, such as Asaib al Haq, Kata’ib Imam Ali (Imam Ali Brigade), and Harakat Nujaba, are listed by the US as Specially Designated Global terrorists. Additionally, the Popular Mobilization Committee, the Iraqi-government sanctioned body that organizes the Shiite militias, is led by a Specially Designated Global Terrorist who the US described as “an advisor to Qassem Soleimani,” the commander of the Qods Force.