Iraq’s government is not built on revenge but is about serving the public, Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi said early Thursday as tensions flared up following the arrest of a militia leader.
Qassim Musleh’s arrest led to a faceoff between the militia supporters and the government security forces in the Iraqi capital late 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,” Mr Al Kadhimi said following the arrest.
“There are crises that need more time to dismantle,” he said, adding that his government’s objective is to “serve the public and is not built on revenge.”
The situation escalated after factions of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) gathered around the Green Zone’s main entrance following Mr 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 show of force as “a serious violation of the Iraqi constitution and the laws in force,” adding in a statement “we have directed an immediate investigation into these movements.”
The arrest of Mr Musleh, the leader of the PMF operations in Anbar province, was based on a judicial investigation and warrant on terrorism charges, Iraq’s military said in a statement. He is being questioned by a joint investigative committee.
Official sources told The National that Mr Musleh was arrested in connection with the murders of activists. It was confirmed by the Associated Press who quoted four security officials confirming that charges were related to the killings of activists in the southern city of Kabala at the order of the Anti-Corruption Committee headed by Lt. Gen. Ahmed Abu Ragheef.
Reuters reported Mr Musleh’s arrest was in connection with a recent rocket attack against the Iraqi-US base at Al Asad. His troops are stationed not far from the base.
The PMF is a state-sanctioned group, made up of militias, that was formed to help Iraq’s army defeat ISIS in 2014. Among the most powerful members of the group are Iran-backed Shiite militias.
International condemnation for show of arms in Baghdad
Following the dangerous escalations, the UN special representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis, said that any arrest case should run its course, including any Iraqi.
“And surely, nobody should resort to a show of force to get their way,” Ms Hennis said. “Such behaviour weakens the Iraqi state and further erodes public trust. State institutions must be respected at all times. Nobody is above the law.”
The British Embassy in Baghdad said it supports the government’s investigation into the actions of armed groups and that Iraqis have called for a state where those who break the law are held to account.
“No one should use force and threats to impede criminal investigations. Democracy rests on respect for the rule of law,” the embassy said in a statement.
With armed groups who consider themselves above the law, it is not possible to respect the basic rights of citizens and hold perpetrators accountable for assassinating members of civil society, said Ulric Shannon, the Canadian ambassador to Iraq.
“The parade of weapons today against public institutions is a clear threat to the state. The Iraqi judiciary should be allowed to operate without the threat of violence, and the law should be applied to everyone,” Mr Shannon said on Twitter.