Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Esmail Ghaani was in Iraq this week as part of Iran’s coordinated efforts to oust US forces from the region, according to reports. Al-Arabiya and other media suggested his visit was timed to coincide with a visit by Iran’s energy minister to seal a deal with Iraq to continue supplying energy to Baghdad.
Ghaani, an expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan who took the place of Qasem Soleimani after the latter was eviscerated by a US missile in January, has struggled to show leadership in his role with the IRGC. He went to Iraq in April and his visit was not well received.
Iraq has a new prime minister who is struggling to rein in security forces and also deal with ISIS insurgents.
Ghaani is not well liked by the Arabic-speaking members of some factions of the Hashd al-Shaabi, the powerful pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. Yet he wants to unify these factions with the help of a member of Hezbollah named Sheikh Mohamed Kawtharani and Abu Fadak, a key leader of the Hashd.
Not everything is known about what has happened in Iraq over the last six months a the country lurches from crisis to crisis and as Iran and the US appeal for hearts and minds. The country is poor, divided and full of protesters and a new ISIS insurgency. Its divided security forces mean no one has clear control.
The Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia, a part of the PMU, warned US and “foreign forces” against remaining in Iraq this week. PMU head Falih Fayyadh has also told the PMU to break their sectarian and political alliances and be loyal to the unit rather than various sheikhs and political parties.
However the PMU is made up of groups that swear allegiance to Iran or which are sometimes linked to Ayatollah Ali Sistani and various shrines and parties such as the Badr Organization. Akram Al-Kaabi, head of Nujaba, appeared to respond to Fayyadh by swearing allegiance to Iran on June 3.
Meanwhile Al-Arabiya has profiled another unit in the PMU, Ktaib Hezbollah, which is a key Iranian proxy. It has carried out attacks on the US and the US killed its leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in January. He was killed with Soleimani.
Ghaani’s trip to Baghdad, if it actually happened, may foreshadow more Iranian moves against the US. The US is gripped by crises, pandemic and protests, and Iran may see an opening.
According to one Telegram channel that reported on Ghaani’s visit, he was in Iraq to continue work towards getting Iraq to expel US forces by withdrawing the mandate for the anti-ISIS Coalition led by the US to continue to work. The US has consolidated its forces in Iraq in a handful of bases in recent months and many Coalition partners withdrew forces due to COVID-19. Yet the Coalition puts out press releases saying it still continues to hammer ISIS in Iraq.
Iran’s Tasnim news, whose background photo on Twitter is a burning US flag, said on Friday that “Baghdad will reject any attempt by the US to prolong the presence of American forces in the country.” The messaging is clear: Iran wants Iraq to follow Tehran’s orders and get the US out. It would be a huge embarrassment for the US to be asked to leave Iraq and badly damage the US role in the region. Iran is hopeful that it can slowly work on Baghdad to get what it wants. A new energy deal and other methods of Iran’s octopus-like attempt to control Iraq is part of this leverage to get the US to leave.
Source » jpost