Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq is riding high after humiliating the Iraqi prime minister this week. After 14 of its members were arrested and then released, it held a victory party at which it burned images of Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi and told pro-Iranian media it will never give up its “resistance weapons.”
This is similar to the way Hezbollah in Lebanon describes its need to have a massive arsenal of weapons and be a state within a state. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps model now appears to be moving full steam ahead, as groups like Iraqi Hezbollah seek to have a parallel armed force.
Kataib Hezbollah is a group of hard-core pro-Iranian cadres who support the Iranian agenda. They are also part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a group of militias that have become an official paramilitary force in Iraq. They are accused of extrajudicial killings and running secret prisons. They fought ISIS, but instead of disbanding, Iran pushed former Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi to make them an official force.
They are now a cross between Lebanese Hezbollah and the IRGC in Iran. They have fired dozens of rockets at US forces in Iraq, killing three members of the coalition earlier this year. The US has carried out airstrikes against them.
After the Kataib Hezbollah members were detained on June 16 by elements of the Counter-Terrorism Service, they were released on June 29. They then burned US and Israeli flags and trampled images of the prime minister. Their claim to not give up weapons now means they seek to maintain their own warehouses and storage facilities.
These groups are accused of trafficking weapons to Hezbollah and Iran in Syria via the Albukamal crossing. They have threatened Israel, and it is believed Iran has sent ballistic missiles to Iraq in recent years and helped move precision-guided munitions via Iraq.
Kataib Hezbollah is now making a play to be both paid by the state of Iraq and an independent militia from it, carrying out its own operations and foreign police, as Hezbollah does in Lebanon.