Iraq attempts to de-escalate tensions after arrest of militia leader

Qassim Musleh's arrest led to a stand-off between government security forces and supporters of the militia.

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“Iraq’s government is not built on revenge but it is about serving the public,” Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said early on Thursday as tensions flared after the arrest of a militia leader.

Qassim Musleh’s arrest led to a stand-off between the militia’s supporters and government security forces in the Iraqi capital late on Wednesday.

“We have worked with strength and sincerity to dismantle the accumulated crises that we inherited from previous governments, they are in the economic, political, security and social sectors,” Al-Kadhimi said after the arrest.

“There are crises that need more time to dismantle.”

The situation in the capital escalated after factions of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) gathered around the main entrance to the Green Zone after Musleh’s arrest.

Iraqi security forces and the elite Counter-Terrorism Service were immediately deployed to protect the diplomatic missions and government buildings in the area.

The Prime Minister described the PMF’s show of force as “a serious violation of the Iraqi constitution and the laws in force”.

“We have directed an immediate investigation into these movements,” he said.

The arrest of Musleh, the leader of PMF operations in Anbar province, was based on a judicial investigation and warrant on terrorism charges, Iraq’s military said. He is being questioned by a joint investigative committee.

Official sources told a news agency that Musleh was arrested in connection with the murders of activists. This was confirmed by the Associated Press which quoted four security officials confirming that the charges were related to the killings of activists in the southern city of Karbala at the order of the Anti-Corruption Committee headed by Lt. Gen. Ahmed Abu Ragheef.

Reuters reported that Musleh’s arrest was in connection with a recent rocket attack against the Iraqi-US base at Al Asad. Musleh’s troops are stationed not far from the base.

The PMF is a state-sanctioned group, made up of militias that were formed to help Iraq’s army defeat ISIS in 2014. Among the most powerful members of the group are Iran-backed Shiite militias.

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