Iraqi security forces arrested over a dozen men suspected of a spate of rocket attacks against the U.S. presence in Iraq, the Iraqi military said Friday.
Two senior Iraqi officials said the 14 men who were arrested had ties to an Iran-backed militia group. The arrests marked a bold move by the government to crack down on groups that have long been a source of tension for U.S.-Iraq relations. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
A raid by Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service was carried out late Thursday in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood. A military statement did not explicitly state the men had militia ties and said a special investigative committee formed to include the Interior Ministry and other Iraqi security forces would follow up on the case.
Following the arrests, armed groups in government vehicles entered the Green Zone ``without official approval'' and surrounded the headquarters of the counter-terrorism service, the statement said.
``These parties do not want to be part of the state and its obligations and seek to remain outside the authority of the Commander-in-Chief,'' the statement said.
The operation was carried out according to a judicial order based on Iraq's anti-terrorism laws, and was issued following intelligence reports indicating the men had orchestrated attacks against U.S. installations in Baghdad airport and inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. embassy is located.
The statement said further intelligence reports indicated another plot targeting the Green Zone. Two launching pads for rockets were discovered during the raid by security forces.
On Monday, a rocket struck in the vicinity of the airport without causing casualties. It was the fourth such attack targeting the U.S. presence since Baghdad embarked on strategic talks with the U.S. on June 11. The attacks were proving to be a key challenge for Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whose government had promised to take action against militia groups suspected of orchestrating them.
Two senior government officials said the men detained had ties to the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group, which the U.S. has blamed for orchestrating attacks against its embassy and troops located inside Iraqi bases.
The arrests are an indication of the prime minister's determination to clamp down on terrorist activity, on official said.
They said intelligence reports indicated the group was planning on carrying out more attacks targeting the airport. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.