Judges released PMF commander due to ‘pressure exerted on them’, says official

Iraqi soldiers take part in an intensive security deployment in Baghdad, Iraq, May 26, 2021. (Reuters)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Iraqi judges decided to release the commander of the Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Anbar province due to “pressure exerted on them”,” a senior official told AFP. 

Authorities released Qasim Muslih, who commands the PMF in Anbar province, on Wednesday, two weeks after he was detained over the murder of an activist.

Muslih had been arrested on May 26 by police intelligence on suspicion of ordering the killing of activist Ihab al-Wazni, who was shot dead on May 9 by men on motorbikes using a silencer.

Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council said in a statement that it had found “no proof of his involvement” in the murder, and that it had established “that he was not in Iraq at the time of Mr Wazni’s assassination”.

A senior Iraqi official, however, told AFP that the government had presented “all available evidence, but the judges decided to release him because of pressure exerted on them.”

AFP reported that the official wished to remain anonymous.

“Telephone communications on the topic of these assassinations between Muslih and the direct perpetrators, threats to relatives, witness testimony, explanations received under questioning — all [these things] were supplied” to the judges, AFP quoted the official as saying.

The official further said the evidence implicated Muslih in the assassination of both Wazni and another activist, Fahim al-Taie, who was killed in December 2019.

Reuters cited security sources as saying that Muslih’s arrest was linked with attacks on a military base that hosts U.S. forces.

The PMF is Iraq’s state paramilitary grouping that includes mostly Shia Muslim factions and is dominated by Iran-backed groups. Muslih is seen by Western and some Iraqi officials as being aligned with Iran, according to Reuters.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has placed himself publicly in opposition to Iran-backed militias and parties, and Muslih’s arrest was a major attempt to rein in their power.

It echoed another attempt to bring Iran-backed militias under control, when in June last year Kadhimi ordered the arrest of militants alleged to have fired rockets at U.S. targets.

On both occasions, paramilitary groups deployed in force inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, where foreign embassies and government buildings are located, no prosecutions were made and those arrested were released.

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