Iraq’s government and major political factions are scrambling to head off what seems to be an inevitable confrontation between resistance groups and the US occupation forces. The US is resorting to extortion and a threat to send the country into complete political and economic turmoil if the rocket attacks against US facilities and supply convoys do not cease. The resistance groups have announced a ceasefire to try to head off a destructive conflagration, but have also reiterated their determination to resume attacks if a definitive timetable is not set for the complete withdrawal of US military personnel.
On January 9 former Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, called on Washington to send a delegation to Baghdad tasked with formulating a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops following the violation of Iraq’s airspace to carry out the assassination airstrike against Iran’s military commander Qassem Soleimani. The PM’s message to the US was in accordance with a resolution adopted unanimously by Iraq’s parliament.
However, the US has refused to comply. The latest US threat to pull out all remaining military personnel and close its embassy in Iraq is accompanied by the threat that if they do so, they will launch massive airstrikes against the resistance groups and impose wide-ranging economic sanctions against Iraq, both of which would have devastating consequences for a country struggling to regain a semblance of political stability and rebuild its shattered economy.
The US military and economic threats against Iraq have continued after the US withdrew another 2,500 troops from Iraq earlier this month. The decision to make additional reductions of US troop numbers in Iraq was announced during Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi’s visit to the US, and was given more urgency following US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s threat to close the embassy and withdraw US military personnel from Iraq completely after US positions and supply convoys were repeatedly subjected to rocket attacks from Iraqi resistance militia groups. The US has also threatened to impose economic sanctions on Iraq, and has threatened to seize Iraq’s oil money held in bank accounts in the US.
According to officials in Baghdad, “US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed the President of the Republic, Barham Salih, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi, and Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi of the need to stop all attacks immediately, particularly against the US embassy in Baghdad; otherwise, the embassy will close its doors in the Iraqi capital.”
“The US will impose sanctions on 36 Iraqi persons who will be placed under an international warrant for arrest. The US administration will adopt measures that prevent any form of economic aid to Iraq, including preventing it from exporting its oil. Military options will be considered against the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), in particular, “Asaib Ahl al-Haq” and “Kataeb Hezbollah Iraq”. The US forces are expected to target their bases and offices in Iraq in retaliation to the several rockets launched against the US embassy in Baghdad. These attacks should stop immediately.” This was the content of Pompeo’s message that was delivered to the highest Iraqi authorities. LINK
A long list of military targets was outlined during the conversation.
The United States has drawn up a list of 80 sites in Iraq linked to Iranian-backed groups that it plans to target if it follows through with a threat to close its embassy in Baghdad, Middle East Eye has learned.
The sites include secret headquarters and shelters used by Hadi al-Amiri and Qais Khazali, the respective leaders of the Badr Organisation and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), as well as sites associated with Kataeb Hezbollah (KH).
All three are Shia armed groups supported by Tehran which are also part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces under the nominal control of the Iraqi government.
Political leaders and armed group commanders told MEE that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared hundreds of satellite images of the 80 sites with Iraqi President Barham Salih during a phone call on 20 September.
Pompeo also informed Salih of Washington’s plans to close its embassy unless the Iraqi government took action to stop attacks targeting the Green Zone, where the fortified building is located, and convoys delivering supplies to US and international forces elsewhere in Iraq.
“The Americans’ message was clear. If you don’t react, we will,” a prominent Shia politician told MEE, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Allowing this to happen means an open war in Baghdad, and America’s exit from Baghdad means that this war is imminent.”
In response to the US threats, Middle East Eye (MEE) subsequently reported on the reactions of some of Iraq’s resistance groups to the latest developments:
“We have not received any signals or messages from the Iranians regarding this matter,” a senior pro-Iran militia commander told MEE.
“The Iranians will not interfere in this, nor will they control all the armed factions. We would hear from them, but that doesn’t mean we do everything they say.
“We do not target diplomatic missions, except for the Americans, because they carry out security and intelligence activities. As for the convoys, they are military forces that represent the occupation and all the armed factions participate in attacking it.”
The commander of another Iranian-backed armed faction also dismissed the threatened closure of the embassy as part of a “political game” being played by Washington and “its local allies including Salih and Kadhimi”.
“In our assessment, the crisis is fabricated and the aim is to place the greatest possible pressure on the anti-American forces to give [the Americans] more space in Iraq,” the commander told MEE. LINK
Under immense pressure from all sides, the Iraqi government and parliament have created a new supreme military and security committee to investigate the persistent rocket attacks that have targeted diplomatic installations and other areas occupied by the US-led coalition as well as their supply convoys.
The PM stated that the committee is authorized to demand any information from any party, and is expecting to show results within 30 days. The committee includes representatives of the security services, and the Security and Defence Committee of the Parliament.
Kadhimi has also reportedly issued orders to evacuate all armed forces from the Green Zone and re-assigned security to the 54th Special Forces Brigade.
An analysis posted by the Middle East Institute last week notes several key aspects of the intractable dilemma the Iraqi government faces – the US determination to continue using Iraqi territory for its wider Middle East ambitions against Syria and Iran, and the corresponding determination of Iraqi resistance groups to force the US to comply with the unanimous demand of the Iraqi parliament and government to withdraw all military personnel from Iraq.
The Americans hint that they could move diplomatic and military assistance missions from Baghdad to more distant Iraqi locales, including Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Americans can’t entirely withdraw from Iraq since Erbil is a vital logistics base for U.S. operations in eastern Syria. The militias sent another message on Oct. 1 by launching rockets that landed near the Erbil airport. They also again ambushed a U.S. supply convoy coming up from Kuwait.
Early on Oct. 5 more rockets landed near the Baghdad airport, where U.S. military personnel are located, and also near the U.S. embassy. A complete halt to attacks against American interests is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Closing the U.S. embassy in Baghdad would mark a political defeat for Washington, and the question is whether the Iraqis can restrain the militias enough to satisfy the Trump administration… LINK
In a joint statement on Saturday, Iraqi resistance groups agreed on a conditional ceasefire with respect to US forces present in Iraq, saying they would halt their military operations, including rocket attacks, providing that Washington does not insist on maintaining their presence in Iraq.
They emphasized that the “conditional opportunity” was created “to respect the good efforts made by some national and political figures to draw up a clear and specific timetable for the implementation of the decision of the Iraqi people, parliament, and government on withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.”
On Sunday, Muhammad Mohi, spokesman for Kata’ib Hezbollah, said in an exclusive interview with Reuters that Baghdad must implement the parliamentary resolution.
“The factions have presented a conditional ceasefire. It includes all factions of the (anti-US) resistance, including those who have been targeting US forces,” he said.
Mohi said that there was no deadline for Baghdad to implement the parliament’s resolution, but warned that “If America insists on staying and doesn’t respect the parliament’s decision then the factions will use all the weapons at their disposal”.
He also indicated that Katyusha rocket attacks on American forces and diplomatic compounds had merely been “a message that you’re not welcome in the country” and that worse attacks could follow. LINK
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