Dozens of men belonging to an Iran-backed militia raided a massage parlor in an upscale neighborhood in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Thursday evening, assaulting its female employees before setting the facility on fire, according to officials and footage of the incident published online.
In a security camera video circulating widely in Iraqi local media, several baton-wielding men could be seen forcibly dragging out two barefoot women who were reportedly working at the facility known as Shilan Massage Center. The attackers, reportedly linked to Rab' Allah (RA) Shiite militia, push the women to the ground before repeatedly kicking them and pulling at their hair.
VOA could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.
The massage parlor is inside Baghdad’s Mount Beirut Hotel in Karrada, a relatively safe neighborhood where churches and international business are located.
The RA claimed responsibility for a video message showing its members inside the parlor in black T-shirts that bear the group’s name as they vandalize the facility. The militia in a statement accused the country’s massage parlors and liquor stores of “seeking to corrupt the young in a dirty goal set by the United States and Israel.”
“As of today, we will not let them escape with impunity,” it vowed.
A day after the incident, neither the Iraqi government nor the religious establishment had made any public statement to condemn the attack.
RA is accused of being involved in other attacks, including, most notably, the arson assault on the Baghdad headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the country’s strongest Kurdish party, and the killings of two Dijlah TV journalists earlier this year.
“These people will not act without the blessing of the religious men who control Iraq,” said Anas Ebraheem, a prominent Washington-based Iraqi activist, adding that he has no hope that the Iraqi government will be able to hold the armed militias accountable.
“These Shiite militias in one way or another belong to and are supported by Iran,” he said.
Baghdad’s fire department, in a statement, confirmed its teams had extinguished "a fire incident that broke out at a massage center inside the Mount Beirut Hotel in the Karrada area.” It added that no individual was injured in the fire.
Iraqi news site Shafaq cited an anonymous Iraqi security official as saying there were about 70 attackers.
"They drove civilian vehicles carrying medium and light weapons and Molotov cocktails," the security source said.
Iraqi intelligence sources say RA is tied to Kataeb Hezbollah, the group accused of attacking U.S. facilities in the country and killing prominent Iraqi researcher Hisham al-Hashimi in July.
No one has yet been brought to justice in connection with Hashimi’s killing despite repeated promises from Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.