Iran-backed Shia militias stormed the fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital Baghdad yesterday, surrounding government forces and sites in an attempt to force the release of an arrested militia leader.
On Wednesday, Iraqi special counter-terrorism forces captured and arrested Qasem Musleh – a militia leader who operates in the country's western Anbar province – on suspicion of ordering the assassination of numerous activists over the past year.
His arrest reportedly outraged the network of Iran-backed militias under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), resulting in militia units flooding the capital and parading through the Green Zone, the international area in Baghdad where the US and British embassies and major government departments are based.
They are also reported to have surrounded the official residence of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, where the militias claimed that they successfully forced the release of Musleh. According to the Iraqi military, however, the figure is still within custody and was being questioned by a "joint investigative committee" which reportedly included PMF officials.
The military also continued deploying tanks and forces throughout the capital to reinforce it, seeming to confirm that Musleh was not yet released.
Following the widespread protests against Iranian influence and economic crises over the past few years, and the shooting of protestors by security forces, Al-Kadhimi's appointment last year was viewed by many as a hope to enforce human rights legislation and return sovereignty to Iraq.
The actions of the militias yesterday have further drawn doubt on the government's ability to rein in the PMF factions and fully integrate them into the armed forces, however, and the increasing occurrence of activists being assassinated has raised concern that Iran continues to possess exceeding leverage and influence within the country.