Earlier today, Iraqi Police and members of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah Brigades clashed in the streets of Baghdad. At least three people were wounded in the shootout.
The attacks began after Iraqi police officers on patrol pulled over a vehicle in eastern Baghdad. Shortly thereafter, militants belonging to the Hezbollah Brigades arrived on the scene and began shooting at the police officers. At least three people, two police officers and one militant, were wounded in the gunfight.
Not long after the firefight, Iraqi police surrounded the headquarters of Hezbollah Brigades in Baghdad. According to AFP, the siege of the headquarters ended after the police arrested a militia member allegedly responsible for the strike. Rudaw has also reported that an influential Iraqi MP has also gone to the Hezbollah Brigades headquarters to help deconflict the situation.
The conflicts in Baghdad come less than a week after Hezbollah Brigades were targeted in airstrikes near the Syrian town of Albu Kamal. Dozens of the militia’s members were killed in the airstrikes, which it, and other groups, have blamed on the United States and Israel. However, neither country has confirmed its involvement in the operations.
The standoff between the police and Hezbollah Brigades may portend an upcoming power struggle between Iraq’s established security forces (the Army, National Police, and local police) and the Iranian-supported Shia militias that make up the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The PMU has risen in stature after leading the charge to defeat the Islamic State in many Iraqi cities, and its political party placed second in Iraq’s parliamentary elections. It will ally with anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr, whose party placed first in the elections, to form the next government.
Hezbollah Brigades is a member of the PMU, which was formed in June 2014 after the Iraqi military and police forces were overwhelmed by the Islamic State in northern, central, and western Iraq. In 2009, the Hezbollah Brigades was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US government.
The PMU is dominated by Shia militias that are backed by Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). It is led by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who is listed by the US as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and also the leader of the Hezbollah Brigades, and Hader al Amiri, the head of the Badr Organization. Both Muhandis and Amiri are closely tied to the IRGC and Iran.
The PMU directly reports to Iraq’s prime minister and does not fall under the command of the Ministries of Interior or Defense. In July 2016, the PMU was officially incorporated into Iraq’s security forces. The unit acts much like Iran’s IRGC, and prominent PMU leaders have said they would obey Iran’s Supreme Leader if he ordered them to overthrow the Iraqi government.