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Iraq News & Discussions

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Iraq Targets Iran-Aligned Militia Over Shooting Death Of Protester
May 11, 2020
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The government said the operation was directed by new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Iraqi security forces have raided the office of an Iran-aligned party in the southern province of Basra and arrested militiamen who fired on demonstrators, killing one protester and injuring several others outside the party building.

The May 11 dawn raid on the Thaar Allah party office led to the arrest of five members of the group and the confiscation of weapons and ammunition, Basra police chief Rashid Fleih said.

The arrests for the death of the protester, the first killed since anti-government demonstrations restarted during the weekend following a brief hiatus, is a rare response by authorities to violence by security forces and militia groups that has killed at least 600 protesters.

The government said the operation was directed by new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

With direct oversight by Commander-in-Chief PM @MAKadhimi, Iraqi security forces today conducted a dawn raid on a building in Basra Province from which bullets were fired earlier at demonstrators, killing one protestor and injuring others.
— Government of Iraq - الحكومة العراقية (@IraqiGovt) May 11, 2020
Protesters in Baghdad, Basra, and other cities in Iraq's predominately Shi'ite south restarted demonstrations on May 9, just days after Kadhimi was sworn in following a nearly six-month political crisis.

The new prime minister, Iraq’s former intelligence chief, has stretched out an olive branch to the anti-government protesters who are demanding employment, better services, and an end to rampant corruption.

The cross-sectarian protest movement has also demanded an end to Iranian meddling in Iraqi politics and an end to the post-Saddam Hussein political order.

On May 10, the judiciary ordered the release of demonstrators arrested since the protests began on October 1. The move came after Kadhimi said demonstrators should be protected and that all protesters should be released.

Kadhimi also promoted Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi to lead counterterrorism operations.

Saadi, who led the military’s campaign against the Islamic State extremist group, was demoted in September 2019 by former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. Widely considered a hero, his demotion caused outrage and sparked the protest movement.

Saadi is considered close to the United States. His demotion in 2019 has led to speculation that the move was forced upon the government by Iran-backed political factions and militia groups.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa
 

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Iran's Zarif In Baghdad As Iraq Seeks To Balance Regional Ties
July 19, 2020 16:30 GMT
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Iranian Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to the media in Baghdad on July 19.

Iran's foreign minister has held a series of meetings with top officials in Baghdad as Iraq's new prime minister seeks to balance complex regional ties.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on July 19 met with his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, President Barham Salih, the head of Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council, Faeq Zeidan, and the leaders of some parliamentary blocs.
Zarif will also travel to Irbil to meet with officials in the autonomous Kurdish region.

Several hours after Zarif landed in Baghdad, three mortar shells struck the heavily fortified Green Zone, where Iraq's government and many foreign embassies are located. No casualties were reported.

The high-level Iranian visit to Baghdad comes as Kadhimi heads to Iran's regional rival, Saudi Arabia, on July 20, followed a day later by an official visit to Tehran.

In Saudi Arabia, Kadhimi will meet Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to work on expanding economic cooperation, while in Iran he is expected to meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The trips have heightened speculation that Iraq may seek a mediating role to sooth regional tensions between Tehran and Riyadh in a bid to avoid their rivalry playing out in Iraq.

Iraq is walking a tricky tightrope trying to balance its close economic, political, and security ties with Iran, while expanding relations with Tehran's rival gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia.

"Iraq seeks to assert its balanced and positive role in making peace and progress in the region," Kadhimi tweeted after the meeting with Zarif.
After meeting with Foreign Minister Hussein, Zarif said a strong and peaceful Iraq is inseparable from the security of Iran.

"For us, a strong Iraq, a peaceful and tranquil Iraq, and an Iraq with good and constructive relations with all of its neighbors is a synonym to our own strength, tranquility, stability, and peace," Zarif said.

The former chief of Iraqi intelligence, Kadhimi emerged as a compromise candidate for the premiership in May with the tacit support of Tehran, Washington, and Riyadh.

He came to the premiership after his predecessor was forced to resign under the pressure of months of mass protests against corruption, poor services, and Iranian influence in the country.

Iraq also seeks to avoid becoming a battleground in escalating tensions between Iran and the United States, which has some 5,000 troops based in the country. The U.S. troops have supported Iraq's fight against the Islamic State extremist group but are viewed by Iran as a threat.

Iraq's concerns about becoming a proxy battlefield have been heightened since a U.S. drone strike in January in Baghdad killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the Iran-backed Kataib Hizbullah militia and deputy head of Iraq's state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Units.

That drone strike led Iran to retaliate by firing missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops and came close to unleashing a full-blown war between Iran and the United States.

Since taking up office in May, Kadhimi has struggled to fulfill a promise to rein in Iran-backed paramilitary groups, which are accused of carrying out rocket attacks on U.S. military and diplomatic facilities.

In late June, Iraqi security forces detained 14 members of Kataib Hizbullah during a raid in Baghdad, saying that they were planning attacks on U.S. interests.

Under pressure, the government released all but one of the militia members days later, in a sign of how difficult it will be for the state to control paramilitary groups.

Kadhimi is also set to visit Washington in the coming weeks.

In addition to addressing their security relationship, the United States is urging Iraq to develop its diplomatic and economic ties to its Persian Gulf neighbors.

In particular, the United States has pressured Iraq to end its electricity dependence on Iran by expanding energy ties with Gulf Cooperation Council members.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters
 

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Iran-Backed Militia Behind Irbil Rocket Attack, Says Iraqi Kurdish Security Agency

September 30, 2020

A suspected Iran-backed militia launched at least six rockets near U.S. troops stationed at Irbil airport in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan's counterterrorism service blamed the September 30 attack on the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an Iraqi state paramilitary organization dominated by Iran-backed groups.

"Six rockets were launched from the borders of the Sheikh Amir village in Nineveh province by the Popular Mobilization Forces who were targeting (U.S.-led) coalition forces in Irbil International Airport," the service said.

U.S. Army Colonel Wayne Marotto, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, said initial reports were that indirect fire did not land on coalition forces in Irbil. "There was no damage or casualties. Incident is under investigation," he posted on Twitter.

The area where the rockets landed is also near the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I), an armed Iranian opposition group that has been based in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region for years.

On Twitter, the KDP-I said one of the rockets landed near its headquarters. It was unclear if the intended target of the rocket barrage was U.S. forces or the KDP-I. Iran has previously carried out strikes on KDP-I bases and assassinated its exiled leadership in Iraqi Kurdistan and Europe.

The rocket attack comes amid reports that the United States is threatening to close its Baghdad Embassy unless the Iraqi government reins in Iran-backed militias blamed for launching dozens of rocket attacks in recent months on the U.S. mission in the Green Zone and bases housing U.S. troops.

Media reports have suggested Washington could move diplomatic staff to Irbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region that has its own security forces and is considered safe.-

Since taking up office in May, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has struggled to rein in Iran-backed militias, some of which are backed by powerful political factions and intertwined with the country’s security forces.

Earlier on September 30, Kadhimi pledged in a meeting with top diplomats to protect foreign missions and limit possession of weapons to state forces following a U.S. threat to shut down its embassy in Baghdad.

"Those who carry out attacks on foreign missions are seeking to destabilize Iraq and sabotage its regional and international relations," Kadhimi told 25 foreign emissaries, including the U.S. ambassador.

Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani condemned the attack near Irbil and called on Kadhimi to hold those responsible accountable.

Iraq, which has close ties with both the United States and Iran, has long worried about becoming a battlefield in escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

In January, a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad airport killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

His death led Iran to retaliate by firing ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops that came close to unleashing a full-blown war between Iran and the United States.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the Iran-backed Kataib Hizbullah militia and deputy head of the PMF, was also killed in the January strike that targeted Soleimani.

Kataib Hizbullah and affiliated Iran-backed militia have been linked to the rocket attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, including one in late December that killed a U.S. defense contractor and wounded several U.S. and Iraqi soldiers at a military base in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
 

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U.S. Says It 'Can't Tolerate' Attacks By Iranian-Backed Militias In Iraq


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Mourners carry a coffin containing a victim of rocket attacks in the Abu Ghraib district on the outskirts of Baghdad on September 29.

Washington has warned that it will not tolerate attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq by Iran-backed militias, as Baghdad voiced concern about a possible American withdrawal.

"We can't tolerate the threats to our people, our men and women serving abroad," David Schenker, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, told reporters at a briefing in Washington on October 1.

Schenker did not confirm or deny a reported U.S. threat to withdraw its troops and close its embassy in Baghdad unless the attacks against them stop.

"We are working, and we look forward to continuing to work, with our Iraqi partners to keep our personnel and our facility safe," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an ultimatum last week that all American personnel would leave Iraq unless the Iraqi government puts a stop to a spate of attacks against them.

On September 28, a rocket targeting American troops killed seven civilians near Baghdad -- one of around 40 attacks targeting U.S. interests since early August.

A U.S. withdrawal could lead to further pullouts by members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting entrenched militants, which would be "dangerous, because the Islamic State group threatens not only Iraq but the whole region," Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said.

On September 30, several rockets fell in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region in the environs of a base used by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, a commander for that group said.

Iraqi Kurdistan's counterterrorism service blamed the September 30 attack on the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an Iraqi state paramilitary organization dominated by Iran-backed groups.

"The single biggest problem in Iraq is the Iranian-backed militias that are undermining stability there, and attacking the United States," Schenker said.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
 
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