The Iraqi people are preparing an explosion of anger if US forces do not withdraw.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
US SOLDIERS take cover near Tal Afar, Iraq, where Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster was in command in 2004.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran’s Tasnim news ran an article hinting at a renewed round of attacks on US forces in Iraq. Rocket attacks against facilities where US forces are located increased in 2019 and reached a crescendo over the summer. The US has pulled troops from half a dozen places and concentrated them in the Kurdistan region, Baghdad and Al-Asad base.
The Iraqi people are preparing an explosion of anger if US forces do not withdraw, Tasnim’s report says. Most Iraqis are not necessarily against the US, but Iran has strong influence in the leading Fatah party and various militias that are linked to it. They are called Hashd al-Shaabi and they have 100,000 men under arms being paid government salaries as paramilitaries.
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Many of these groups, such as Badr, Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba are loyal to Iran and Iran’s IRGC. They do Iran’s bidding, often with clear orders from IRGC commanders like Quds Force head Esmail Ghaani. The US killed Ghaani’s predecessor, Qasem Soleimani, and head of Kataib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in January. Clashes between the US and the militias took place in December 2019 and March 2020.
The report in Iran’s media says the US must withdraw and end its role in Iraq’s airspace. Coalition aircraft have been seen circling Erbil in the Kurdistan region and doing loud flyovers. The Kurdistan autonomous region is supportive of the US but has budgetary issues and is being pressured by Baghdad. A missile fired from Nineveh plains near Mosul at a base near Erbil where US forces are located in October was an indicator of Iran’s possible next steps. Iran has been trafficking ballistic missiles to Iraq and also fired missiles from Iran at US forces in January. In 2018, Iran used missiles to target Kurdish dissidents in the Kurdish region.
The Tasnim article quoted a man named Karim Al-Khaikani as saying Iraq has not done enough to get rid of the Americans. There are tensions between the Iranian-backed militias and some Iraqi military units and the Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi. In June he tried to have some members of the militias detained for firing rockets.
A new controversy in Anbar appeared to show that an Iraqi unit wanted to remove Hashd flags. There is anger over Hashd checkpoints as well. “At any moment, there is a possibility of popular anger due to the presence of the US military due to the lack of attention to the Iraqi parliament and it is being ignored by the government,” the commentator told Tasnim. “The government has failed in its decisions regarding the sovereignty of Iraq.”
This argument appears to show that there is discussion about rekindling the rocket attacks on the US. However, the concerns among the militias is that this could give the Trump administration with an excuse to retaliate. Iran wants to start on the right foot with the new Biden administration rather than create a crisis. This is their calculation as they still want to pressure the US in Iraq.
Act now or act after Biden is sworn in, the militias wonder.