The prospect of a powerful Iran-backed militia moving dangerously against the Iraqi government is increasing even as the secured Green Zone in Baghdad is fast turning into a turf for impending clashes between the government forces and paramilitary fighters opposing the regime.
The stalemate came after Iraq detained an enormously influential militia commander supported by Iran over the death of activists in the Anbar province.
Qasim Musleh, who commands the Hashd al-Shaabi militia, was arrested on terrorism charges on Wednesday. Musleh, is also a leading figure in the Iranian-backed Tofuf Brigade.
Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)
Musleh's arrest is a highly sensitive issue as he is also the head of the government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Anbar province that worked to defeat the Islamic State terrorists. A major component of his militia group is are members of Iran-backed Shiite militia.
Hashd al-Shaabi reportedly has more than 5,000 fighters inside Baghdad's Green Zone and they armed to the teeth and roaming around, probably waiting for instructions from the top, the Middle East Eye reported.
Intense Negotiations Taking Place
The outlet added that intense negotiations are taking place between the Iraqi government and the leaders of the paramilitary faction. Though Iraq has closed the fortified Green Zone, tensions are high within the premises that host most of the government headquarters and diplomatic missions.
Tension is building on both the sides inside the Green Zone, eyewitnesses told MEE. The fighters are 'wandering around carrying RPG-7 grenade launchers' and any scenario is possible, reports have said.
"Musleh's arrest is a major blow to them [the Iranian-backed armed factions]. It is greater than any operation that targeted any of them in the past ... Musleh was being watched for a week and his arrest was related to the assassination of an activist in Karbala. We do not know how things will proceed, but the pressure is very great on the prime minister to release him," a senior Iraqi official said.
Meanwhile, France 24 reported that a dangerous showdown is on the cards between the supporters of the militia leader and the Iraqi government.
Even as the militia surrounded Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi's headquarters, the elite Counter-Terrorism Service were deployed in the Green Zone.
The Iraqi government says that the presence of the fighters inside the seat of the government is a "a serious violation of the Iraqi constitution and the laws in force. "We have directed an immediate investigation into these movements," the prime minister said.