Iran has reportedly being using hit squads to silence its opponents in Iraq, according to British security officials that provide military training to Iraqi soldiers. Ever since Iran-backed candidates failed to secure victories in Iraq’s May election, Tehran has been deploying the squads to intimidate—and eliminate—those criticizing the Islamic Republic’s influence in the country.

The security officials also revealed that Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, oversees the program.

The squads allegedly assassinated Adel Shaker el-Tamimi, an Iraqi envoy and close ally of former prime minister Haider al-Abadi, last September. Tamimi, a Shiite, worked towards healing the country’s sectarian rift and forging closer connections with Iraq’s Sunni-Arab neighbors. Shawki al-Haddad, a close ally of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, was assassinated in July after he accused Iran of committing election fraud in the Iraqi contest.

Other targets have included Rady al-Tai, an adviser to Ali Al-Sistani, one of Iraq’s most senior Shiite clerics. After al-Tai called on the new government to reduce Iranian influence in the country, a team of assassins opened fire on his home in August. Al-Tai survived but a member of his family was critically wounded.

While the hit squads have targeted opponents across Iraq’s political spectrum, many have been Shiites.

“The way the Iraqi political system has been structured since the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime is that the main positions are divided up among different sectarian groups,” Nathaniel Rabkin, Managing Editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk newsletter, told The Media Line.

To this end, the Iraqi president has always been a Kurd, the prime minister a Shiite and the speaker of the parliament a Sunni. “Within that power-sharing arrangement, the Shiites are obviously the most powerful as the prime minister position is considered the most influential.

“What this means is that even though everyone has a stake in the government, each sect competes against itself. For example, different Kurdish parties compete against one another for control of what is reserved for the Kurds, and the same dynamic plays out among the Shiites and Sunnis. Since the Shiites are the largest sect, which controls [the top government post], there is intense competition among factions.”

Members of Iraq’s Shiite leadership fled to Iran when Hussein was in power and maintained close ties to the Iranians, Rabkin elaborated. On the other hand, there were influential Shiites that stayed in Iraq, as well as others that relocated to Western countries.

“Most of Iraq’s prime ministers have been Shiites who were in the West under Hussein, such as the current Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi as well as his predecessor Haider al-Abadi. This creates an inherent tension as Iran-backed players often feel the government—though led by a Shiite—is not sufficiently pro-Iran. They then often look for ways, via assassinations or intimidation, to either undermine the government for its Western ties or put pressure on it to reduce those ties and rely more on Tehran.”

Eldad Pardo, an Iran expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that Iran supporters in Iraq maintain organizations and militias that often resort to bribes and violence to push the country further into the Islamic Republic’s orbit.

“These Iran-backers might be using such means more now because they are becoming less popular in Iraq,” he asserted, adding that many Iraqis are unhappy over the lack of electricity and water in addition to Iranian meddling.

“Many Iraqis for quite some time, particularly among Shiites, have lost patience with Iran. Iraqis, including Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis want to deal with the country’s issues.”

While the Iranians have been trying to take advantage of sectarian and ethnic divides in the Middle East, as well as the crumbling of state systems, this has not necessarily endeared them to all Shiites, Pardo explained.

Tehran is in the process of trying to establish itself as a regional power by forming a so-called “Shiite Crescent” from Iran to Lebanon, via Iraq and Syria. A major reason why the Trump administration re-imposed economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic was because of the latter’s support for proxies and terrorist groups in pursuit of regional hegemony.

Last September, Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq launched attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Basra. Iran considers the U.S., along with Israel, its arch-enemy.

Source » themedialine