Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi seeks to convince Iraq’s Kata’ib Hezbollah to
withdraw from Nukhayb on the border with Saudi Arabia and leave the Iraqi-Saudi
border security file exclusively for the armed forces, but the Shiite militia
is still procrastinating and refuses to withdraw, despite being informed of
this matter more than ten days ago, sources said.
Kata’ib Hezbollah, which has six locations inside Nukhayb adjacent to Saudi territory and has been in place since 2016, still refuses to implement the prime minister’s decision to evacuate Iraq’s international border areas with Saudi Arabia and hand them over to the army and border guards exclusively, particularly after US reports about Saudi oil sites being targeted from Iraq. The militia considers this decision to be an attack on it in accordance with Saudi desires.
The militia has multiple leaders, and some have demanded an extension to review the military situation, while others have stated that Kata’ib Hezbollah is not considered part of the Iranian Militias in Iraq and Syria (IMIS), in a clear reference to their rejection of Abd al-Mahdi’s decisions.
Previously, officials and parliament members from Anbar province accused Kata’ib Hezbollah of abducting some 3,000 displaced people who fled the province’s cities because of the war against ISIS. They confirmed that those displaced people were being detained at large jails in the Jurf al-Sakhar area of northern Babel province, which has been controlled by Kata’ib Hezbollah for years.
A member of the Iraqi Veterans Association, Col. Emad al-Ezzi, said that there were many reasons behind Hezbollah’s insistence on staying in Nukhayb, pointing out that the militia viewed Nukhayb as a point of concentration near the border with Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a fierce war with Kata’ib Hezbollah’s Houthi allies in Yemen, as well as the fact that Nukhayb represents the key to the southern Iraqi province of Anbar, which extends to the border with Jordan and Syria.
It is strange that Kata’ib Hezbollah insists on staying in sites scheduled to be delivered to the Iraqi army, Ezzi stated, pointing out that Iraqi factions were quick to welcome Abd al-Mahdi’s recent decision to restructure IMIS.
Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Osman al-Ghanmi visited Riyadh a few days ago at the official invitation of his Saudi counterpart Fayyad bin Hamed al-Ruwaili.
Iraqi sources in Baghdad, one of them a member of Iraqi parliament’s defense and security committee, said that the visit came after contacts between the Saudi and Iraqi militaries, which included an invitation to Ghanmi to visit Saudi Arabia and discuss the border security file.
Ghanmi’s visit to Saudi Arabia came less than a week after US reports stating that the two drone attacks on Saudi oil interests last June were not from Yemeni territory, but were carried out from inside Iraq by Iranian-affiliated armed factions, according to US officials.
Iraq, represented by Abd al-Mahdi, officially denied those reports, considering the information to have been spread by US officials, while assuring in turn that the intelligence agencies confirmed their lack of authenticity.
The southern Anbar town of Nukhayb is adjacent to the Saudi town of Arar, and part of it leads to the Jordanian border with Iraq in the direction of Rutba. It is located 215 kilometers from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.
The town has a population of about 30,000, mostly from the Shammar, Anza, and Dulaim tribes, which have tribal ties with their Saudi counterparts.
Nukhayb was not occupied by ISIS like the rest of Anbar due to the lack of any logistical or military importance, as well as its open area, which makes it easier to be targeted by air.
However, several militias did enter the town – the first of which was the Imam Ali Brigades, followed by Qasim al-Jabbarin and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, who are close to Iran – before withdrawing all of them and leaving the town in the hands of Kata’ib Hezbollah in 2016.