The Iraqi militia group Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), announced the formation of their own air force on Thursday, September 5.
A statement by the PMF, a close ally of Iran, circulated through Iraqi news outlets said PMF's deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes ordered the formation of the air force directorate, appointing Salah Mahdi Hantoush as its caretaker.
The decision comes a few weeks after a series of suspicious air raids targeted PMF locations in Baghdad and other provinces of Iraq.
PMF leadership blames Israeli drones and U.S. forces operating in Iraq.
Israel has not officially claimed responsibility for the raids, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Thursday, August 22, that his country's forces had attacked Iran-backed militias in Iraq.
Echoing his earlier statements, Netanyahu disclosed, "We're acting in many theaters against a state (Iran) that seeks to annihilate Israel."
Speaking to the Israeli Channel 9 network, broadcasting for Jewish-Russian immigrants, Netanyahu stressed, "I don't grant Iran immunity anywhere," adding, "Iran is a state, a power that has sworn to annihilate Israel. It's trying to establish bases against us everywhere; in Iran itself, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen."
Meanwhile, unnamed American officials confirmed that Israel has been behind the mysterious attacks targeting Iran-backed militias in Iraq, according to The New York Times and the Associated Press.
The PMF was formed from mainly Shia militias in 2014 as per a decree from Iraq's top Shi'ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to counter Islamic State militants, and later granted recognition as a "national force."
There are no independent reports on how PMF forces were trained and armed. Nonetheless, it is generally believed that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force is behind training and arming the group.
The outspoken commander of Qods Force, IRGC Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani, admitted on July 11, 2017, "The commander of PMF has succeeded to gain a key to all Iranian weaponry depots."