On 14 February, Akram al-Kabi, the leader of the Iraqi Harakat al Nujaba (HAN) paramilitary group, warned during an address in Tehran that the “resistance” would “certainly” give a “military response” to the US over the deaths of commanders Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Kabi said the responses would be “corrosive and unexpected” with the goal of forcing the US to leave Iraq.
Kabi’s threat raises the risk of a limited conflict between the US and HAN. The US may also fight other Iranian-led paramilitary groups, though the IRGC could only deploy HAN against the US. If Kabi does not carry out his threat, he would appear weak.
Formed in 2013 as an Iraqi contingent to fight in Syria, HAN and Kabi answer to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. HAN has sustained operations in Syria and Iraq.
Kabi said that the “Resistance” would have to complement recent anti-US protests in Iraq and an Iraqi parliament solution to force the US exit (as Iraq analyst Bilal Wahab has pointed out, the Iraqi parliament did not have quorum when it passed the non-binding resolution).
Kabi declared that “we have closed all of our public offices in Iraq and are ready for war.” He continued that “to protect Resistance forces we have returned to our security methods during the occupation. The corrosive war will begin at once, and they will not find targets. Just as our roadside bombs, missiles, and bullets targeted their soldiers, today their planes and forces would be targeted.”
The US this month interdicted a shipment of Iranian weapons bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen that includes a recently produced and previously undocumented surface-to-air (SAM) missile that US officials have called “358.” A Navy spokesman said that these missiles are only exported to IRGC-led proxies.
Kabi added that the “countdown” to the “revenge” operation has begun, and that “we are monitoring all of their [US] air and ground movements including in Ayn al-Asad, K-1, Al-Taji, Al-Matar, Sazer, etc.”
HAN released footage claiming to show a US helicopter within its “reach.”
In 2019, the US added Kabi and HAN, or Movement of the Noble, to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
Islamic Republic officials have rewarded Kabi for his loyalty and performance on the field. Kabi has declared absolute loyalty to Khamenei, openly saying in 2015 that he would overthrow the Iraqi government if Khamenei ordered him to do so. HAN has been instrumental in IRGC-led operations in Syria and Iraq. During a trip to Tehran in 2016, top Iranian officials publicly greeted him, and state media interviewed him on prime time television (for more, please see FDD’s Long War Journal Iraqi militia leader receives warm reception in Tehran). At a funeral ceremony for Soleimani in Tehran in January 2020, he was in the front row alongside other top Iranian officials and commanders behind Khamenei.