Iran’s maximum pressure on Iraq to remove U.S. forces

INVOLVED IN THIS ARTICLE:

Ali Shamkhani

Ali Shamkhani

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis

Kataib Hezbollah

Kataib Hezbollah

Javad Zarif

Javad Zarif

In a tag team pressure campaign aimed at Iraq the Iranian leadership sent one after another of its heavies to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi during rounds of talks in Tehran this week. Kadhimi is a relatively new face in Baghdad, a former intelligence chief and activist who became Prime Minister this spring after Iraq failed twice to find another man to replace Adel Abdul Mahdi. Mahdi resigned last year due to protests.

Kadhimi is an energetic man who is compassionate towards activists and appears to want to do the best for Iraq. But he is stuck in the middle of rising Iran-US tensions and the frequent attacks on US forces by Iranian-backed militias that are also part of his security forces. These groups like Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and Badr all seem to operate with their own clerics and power structure rather than listening to Baghdad’s decisions. When Kadhimi tried to have counter-terror forces detain members of Kataib Hezbollah, the men were quickly released and celebrated by burning the Prime Minister’s photo.

The Iraqi leader is now on a regional tour. He went to Iran on Tuesday to meet with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Ayatollah stressed that while Iran does not interfere in Iraq, it is the “corrupt” Americans who are interfering in Iraq and who only sow destruction in the region. Kadhimi listened and waited for the Ayatollah to end the speech. He went on, accusing the US of spreading chaos and targeting Iraq. He said the US opposes the close political, religious and cultural contacts between Iraq and Iran.

Khamenei also said the US had committed atrocities in January when a US airstrike killed Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, the head of Kataib Hezbollah, and IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani. “they killed your guest at your house and explicitly confessed to the crime,” the Iranian leader said. Soleimani, in this sense, was the “guest” in Iraq. This appeared to be a bit more than a friendly conversation, almost a threat that Iraq had not protected Soleimani. Iran has vowed revenge against the US killing. Iraq could be where the revenge takes place. Already Iran has fired missiles at US forces on Iraqi bases in Iraq.

Kadhimi also met with Ali Shamkhani, the head of the Supreme National Security Council. Shamkhani has visited Iraq earlier this year to pressure Iraq to expel US forces. There are thousands of Us forces in Iraq as part of the anti-ISIS Coalition. In March when pro-Iranian groups fired rockets at US forces on a base, killing three, the US retaliated with more airstrikes. The US generals at CENTCOM call this “contested deterrence,” a word that lacks clear meaning but apparently means Iran is sort of deterred, but not completely deterred, from more attacks.
Shamkhani’s meeting with Kadhimi was meant to be yet another piece of Iran’s maximum pressure to get US forces out of Iraq. Shamkhani said the Us was “evil” and that it was a “malicious, terrorist” element in Iraq that was leading to insecurity. The US meanwhile says it wants to continue strategic dialogue with Iraq which kicked off earlier this year. Shamkhani also condemned “counter-revolutionary” groups in the autonomous Kurdistan region and said they must be dealt with. This refers to dissident groups that oppose Iran’s regime. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently visited Iraq and the Kurdistan region where he also pressured against the hosting of any dissidents. The Kurdistan Region is a powerful autonomous area but is also facing challenges from new Turkish airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers Party that has bases in the mountains. It is now being pressured by Iran as well.

The main message of the Shamkhani meeting was Iran-Iraq cooperation. Kadhimi thanked Iran for help during the ISIS war and said the two countries would remain brothers. Iran said it hoped Iraq would play a greater role in regional security, apparently meaning helping Iran work with Syria and perhaps be a conduit for Iran’s weapons trafficking to Syria. Iran has sent ballistic missiles to Iraq in 2018 and 2019 and trafficking precision guided munitions via Iraq’s Al-Qaim border area with Syria. Iraq has recently tried to replace some units on the border to make the border more secure. Regional security, for Iran, means regional Iranian hegemony. Iraq is Iran’s “near abroad” in this equation. The pressure on Kadhimi was intense during the recent visit and Iran showed it means business in terms of pressuring the US to leave Iraq.

Source » jpost

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