Pro-Iran militias carefully ramp up pressure ahead of Kadhimi’s U.S. trip

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Qais Khazali

Qais Khazali

Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq are intensifying hostile activities against US forces and interests in the country as Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s visit to Washington approaches on August 20.

A Katyusha rocket fell inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign missions, but caused no casualties, a military statement said Sunday.

Security forces found a missile base and dismantled two other rockets at the launch site, the statement added.

The attack was at least the ninth within a week apparently aimed at US interests, according to a tally based on official statements and security sources.

Kadhimi confirmed in an interview on Monday that Iraq still requires US assistance and that he would continue to work towards security sector reforms to prevent such attacks.

Earlier last week, a camp hosting US forces at Baghdad airport and another in Saladin governorate, north of the Iraqi capital, along with convoys for logistical support in the south of the country, were targeted by missile attacks and explosions, which also did not cause casualties.

The attacks were carried out on the camps in Baghdad and in the north with Katyusha rockets, while the attacks on convoys in southern Iraq were carried out with improvised explosive devices.

The military command said that three Katyusha rockets fell on the Balad air base, near the city of Tikrit, the centre of Saladin governorate on Thursday, without any losses.

The 34 “F-16” planes that Iraq bought from the United States are stationed at this base, which also hosts American experts on maintenance and training.

The increased attacks by Shia militias on this base led to the departure of all American experts and the forces assigned to protect them, leaving the F-16 squadron in poor condition and almost nonfunctional due to mismanagement and corruption.

Hours after the attack on the Balad base, an “explosive device” went off on one of the wheels of a convoy of companies contracting with the International Coalition Forces near the Diwaniyah Bridge on the highway in the south of the country.

Firefighting teams were afraid to approach the fire to treat it due to militias monitoring the site, and eventually the flames moved from one wheel to another, causing further damage.

The US military acknowledged that there were attacks on its convoys in the south of the country, but confirmed that all of them were carrying logistical support equipment intended to help Iraqi forces.

The US military also said that needed equipment was being transported to Iraq via an air bridge with Kuwait, while heavy equipment, intended for the Iraqi forces, is generally transported by land.

The US military has been contracting with Iraqi civilian transport companies that use Iraqi drivers to transport logistical support equipment for Iraqi forces through Kuwait.

The US military stressed that it does not charge the Iraqi side any money in exchange for transporting this equipment.

On Friday, the Iraqi military leadership announced that “three Katyusha rockets had landed in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport, without significant losses.”

The nature of these attacks — causing no casualties among American forces — suggests their goal is purely propagandist, as Iran-backed Shia militias fear US casualties would result in a devastating response.

In December last year, Iran-backed militias incurred heavy human and material losses when one of their attacks on a camp in the city of Kirkuk killed an American national. The US army responded with raids targeting sites of pro-Iranian factions near the Syrian border that killed some 20 people and caused the destruction of a number of weapons’ warehouses.

Observers say that Iran is trying to remind Kadhimi of its sway in Iraq before he heads to the US.

Iran and its allies have grown increasingly concerned about the future of the armed Shia groups and possible US futures moves — two issues that will be put on the table in Washington.

Ahmad al-Kinani, a deputy for the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia led by Qais Khazali, says that “the presence of US forces in Iraq is what justifies the activities of the resistance,” referring to repeated attacks on US interests in Iraq.

Al-Kinani believes that the US’s exit from Iraq is the best way to control smuggled weapons.

Over the past few days, Iraqi Shia parties affiliated with Iran have tried harder to link the presence of American forces with smuggled weapons, triggering a climate of mistrust, even among popular Shia circles, regarding the real intentions of Iran and its allies.

Sunni and Kurdish politicians,as well as Shias, believe that Iran-backed militias will openly attempt to seize power in Iraq as soon as the US forces leave.

Observers say that the rocket and explosion campaign and recent statements are aimed at pushing Kadhimi to demand that US forces leave.

However, Kadhimi told the Associated Press on Monday that Iraq still requires US assistance to combat ISIS, though such support may not be direct or military.

““In the end, we will still need cooperation and assistance at levels that today might not require direct and military support, and support on the ground,” Kadhimi said, adding that the level of cooperation “will reflect the changing nature of terrorism’s threat.”

General Kenneth McKenzie, commander in chief of US forces in the Middle East, said he expected US and other NATO forces to maintain a “long-term presence” in Iraq to help fight extremists and halt Iranian influence in the country.

This is the first and clearest US military signal about the US army’s intentions in Iraq and its plans to deal with Iran, whose allies in Baghdad seem to have lost hope of isolating the country in order to control it.

Source » thearabweekly

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