Iraq “confused” between Washington and Tehran

Iraq “confused” between Washington and Tehran

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In the midst of the current escalation between Washington and Tehran, the Iraqi government seeks to remove the potential confrontation between Washington and Tehran, in the wake of escalating threats between the two sides and to resolve the outstanding problems by dialogue and peaceful ways. This comes amid the question of how can Iraq to adapt its interests with Washington and Tehran, and what are the repercussions that will result in the event of a confrontation?

The government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi pursues a declared and clear policy that sees the need to keep Iraq out of the circle of American-Iranian tensions, which the Iraqi arena represents, more than others, an arena to settle calculations between them, either directly or through local allies of the two countries. Baghdad government seeks to adapt its relations with the United States and Iran in a kind of balance and non-aligned to either of them in the service of its interests to spare Iraq to enter into the conflicts of other countries by proxy. The Iraqi Prime Minister refused to enter Iraq in the policy of axes alongside a state against another country with his country’s keenness to establish balanced relations with all countries to serve the interests of Iraq and the interests of other countries in the region and the world. However, based on these trends , his offer comes to be a mediator between Washington and Tehran , but the trends of the central government clash with the presence of influential parties in the decision centers and the security, military and legislative institutions of the country aligned with the Iranian policies against the United States in Iraq and the region.
Local media quoted the Deputy Secretary-General of the Movement of Nujaba as saying that what he called “Iraqi resistance factions” ready to target US interests at the time it sees appropriate. In the same context, one of the leading leaders of the movement of Asaib Ahl al-Haq allied to Iran said that the US forces deployed in some provinces of Iraq will not be safe “if the axis of resistance was exposed to the US-Israeli strikes.” According to what was said by the Iraqi Prime Minister in his weekly press conference, Tuesday, May 14, Iraq “is making great efforts to calm things down with indications from both parties that things will end to Good”.

Observers believe that the Iraqi government should favor its interests, considering that the state is able to adapt its relations with Washington and Tehran. They pointed out that the Constitution does not allow favoring the interests of other countries at the expense of Iraq’s interest, and does not allow interference in the affairs of other countries, and its territories are not allowed to be used as a launching pad to fight other countries. In contrast, the other countries do not interfere in Iraqi affairs. They added “The government can not violate the constitution, and if it sided with one state or another, the House of Representatives will reject this trend, as well as the Federal Court. They considered that Iraq may be a diplomatic intermediary between America and Iran to defuse the crisis especially that the two countries have interests in Iraq, pointing out that Baghdad called for dialogue.
They say that Iraq can maintain its interests through a map laid down in the constitution, namely that relations are based on common interests, with attempts to polarize Iraq by Washington and by Tehran, and both sides want to place it in defense or attack on the other. They added that Iraq must determine its positions through the compass of interest, pointing out that this is not easy because the talk is between a strong neighbor and an international friend of great power.
They pointed out that it is difficult for Iraq to remain neutral in the event of a clash between Tehran and Washington, where some internal parties may be moving closely related to Iran through Iraqi territory to target US interests, considering that this would have significant repercussions, and Iraq may be turned to be part of the conflict that will cost it a great deal of money.

And they considered that the policy of Iraq is clear, especially as Iraq informed the US administration that it will not be within the means of the blockade on Iran, and will not cancel gas contracts with Tehran. On the possibility of using US forces to Iraqi territory to strike Iran, Al-Sarraj told Al-Jazeera Net that Iraq rejected this, but added that “the Kurdistan region is likely to be a base for US forces.” The government confirmed through Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi earlier not to enter with any axis at the expense of any country and to reject the policy of the axis and the desire to establish relations that serve all the peoples of the region.
As for the repercussions that could result on Iraq in the event of a confrontation between Washington and Tehran, observers believe that the bias of Iraq to America and engage in sanctions against Iran will place it in a confrontation with strong political parties that thay have control within the parliament and the government and the popular and religious communities.

If Iraq goes to the Iranian position, this would deprive it of US economic and military aid, which would lead to the collapse of the government program, as well as the possibility that armed groups would rebel against the government and carry out military operations against US interests.

Hashemi said the political parties – especially the Shiite which have control over the government and the parliament – may take parliamentary legislation to expel foreign forces from Iraq, including thousands of Americans. If the Iraqi-US relationship is strained, Hashemi believes that the relations is likely to be worse with the Europeans and NATO, in addition to the Gulf States and America’s allies , and this may impose on Iraq international isolation that Iraq is not able to overcome.

LONDON (Reuters) – In an article, chief of the Middle East website, British writer David Hurst revealed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo surprised Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi during his recent undeclared visit to Baghdad and asked him to tell the Iranians that President Donald Trump was not enthusiastic about a war against them, and all he wanted to sign a new nuclear deal bears his name . In an article on the Middle East website, Hurst quoted a senior Iraqi official in Baghdad familiar with the details of the talks as saying that Abdul Mahdi had expected Pompeo to fire on Iran after reports provided that Washington had sent an aircraft carrier and Bombers B52 to the Gulf in a review of power .

He pointed out that Abdul Mahdi was expected that Pompeo to demand to withdraw the militias loyal to Iran, which can attack US troops stationed in Iraq in time of war. But he did not say that, and what Pompeo said was completely different and his tone surprised the Iraqi prime minister, according to the source familiar with what happened in the meeting.

Pompeo asked Abdul Mahdi to convey a message to Iran that the United States was not enthusiastic about the war with it, and all Trump wanted was a new nuclear deal bearing his name. Abdul-Mahdi replied to Pompeo that the Iranians were self-respecting people and would not reopen a new debate on the nuclear deal, but pointed out that it was possible to agree to add a protocol to the agreement. Pompeo reacted positively to this point, describing it as a good idea.

Pompeo’s tone was positive, in which he did not threaten Iran. The next day, Abdul Mahdi sent an envoy to Tehran to inform officials there, “the source said. At the same time, Trump said something similar in his speech, which opened fire on former Secretary of State John Kerry. Trump said he” wants to be contacted by Iranians, he added that “Kerry has told the Iranians that they should not contact him,” I think they should contact him. If they do so, we are ready to hold talks and make a fair deal with them, “he said.

Trump said also,”We do not want to have nuclear weapons, and that is not a difficult demand. We will help bring them back to normal wonderfully, they are in bad state now, I look forward to the day when Ican actually help Iran, we are not looking forward to hurt it”. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has ruled out a war between Iran and the United States, saying they do not want to. He said there were signs from both sides that things are going well ” “The Iraqi news agency quoted Abdul Mahdi as saying that Iraq is connected to both Iranian and American officials, noting that the conflict between the United States and Iran is a complex issue, and that Iraq is working hard to find solutions to it .The question that arises in this context and in the midst of the security and military escalation in the region: Will Tehran drag Washington into a limited confrontation on Iraqi territory?
The anticipation controls the Iraqi atmosphere in the light of accelerated warnings and decisions from Western countries to withdraw their nationals and the suspension of its activities in Iraq amid fears in Baghdad that Iran to transfer the expected confrontation with the United States to the Iraqi arena and by Iraqi tools which adds a new suffering of war on Iraqis.

This comes as intelligence reports reveal the concentration of missiles for allied militias to Iran near the positions of US forces in Iraq, which means that Iran is preparing for confrontations that may be limited on Iraqi territory and prevent Washington from transferring the battle to the Iranian interior.

The request by the US State Department to non-essential US embassy staff to leave Iraq soon turned into a wave that resulted in Germany and the Netherlands taking similar action. The US demand reinforced speculation that a military conflict could erupt between the United States and Iran despite the confirmation of officials from both countries that they do not want war.

The US embassy in Baghdad announced that the decision to withdraw non-essential staff from Iraq was made because of “increasing threats.” The embassy said, “Given the growing threat chain in Iraq … the Secretary of State decided to include the mission in Iraq, non-essential staff of the US Embassy in Baghdad and the US Consulate in Erbil to leave. Commenting on the sudden US decision, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the security situation in Iraq is stable and the US embassy used urgent commercial flights to move its staff from Baghdad to Amman and Beirut, while the US ExxonMobil evacuated it American employees working in southern Basra city to Kuwait. Despite the insistence of Iraqi parties that “Americans continue to provoke the fabrication of threats alone in the region,” but security sources in Baghdad talked about the receipt of information confirming the possibility of carrying out kidnappings against foreign nationals in three Iraqi sites, in the capital Baghdad and Basra to the south and Erbil to the north.

“The United States … went to Iraqi leaders to say either you are with us or with them,” said researcher Renad Mansour, a fellow at Chatham House. He added, “The Iraqis were saying why we are not allies of the parties? But the Americans do not care about that, and I think the Iranians do not care either. “Observers said it is likely that gangs specializing in organized crime linked to pro-Iranian Iraqi militias were planning to carry out kidnappings, And they added, the information did not specify the nationality of the target, this explains the announcement by Germany and the Netherlands to suspend their missions in Iraq, for security reasons.

In the context of self-restraint in the US-Iranian conflict, Iraqi President Barham Salih stressed yesterday the necessity of giving priority to the national interest and “avoiding the policy of axes”, amid fears of Iraq becoming a possible arena in which the repercussions of the current US-Iranian tension will be reflected on it , on the background of the military mobilization sent by the administration of President Donald Trump to the waters of the Gulf, and Iran to move its agents in the region in order to threaten global energy security.
In an indication that Americans fear Iran will respond, directly or through its agents, by targeting their interests in Iraq, Washington announced yesterday that all non-essential staff are to leave its embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil. The USembasy spokesman in Baghdad said in a statement,”In view of the growing range of threats we are witnessing in Iraq that the Iraqi government briefed us during US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit on May 7, and through subsequent contacts,” the US secretary of state decided that the inclusion of the US mission in Iraq , the non-essential staff of the US Embassy in Baghdad and the US Consulate in Erbil to leave ». “We are reviewing and evaluating the safety, security and operations of our facilities around the world on a regular basis,” he said. “We decided that the binding departure order is appropriate in light of current security conditions.”

“We do not take these decisions lightly,” the spokesman said. The safety of US government employees and American citizens is a top priority for the State Department. “”We are confident of the Iraqi security services’ determination to protect us, but this threat remains serious and we want to reduce the risk of harm,” he said, stressing that the Americans remain “committed to partnership with the Iraqis to further our common interests.”
For its part, the French Press Agency quoted a statement by the US State Department as saying that many terrorist and rebel groups operating in Iraq, including “anti-American sectarian groups”, “may threaten US citizens and Western companies in Iraq.”
In the same context, the French Press Agency reported that Germany and the Netherlands announced yesterday to stop the training of Iraqi soldiers amid tensions between Iran and the United States.
“The German army has stopped its training,” German Defense Ministry spokesman Jens Flossdorf told reporters, speaking of “increased vigilance” by the German army in Iraq. Flossdorf said the training could resume in the coming days and that “there is no concrete threat” at the moment. There are about 160 German soldiers in Iraq, including 60 in Taji north of Baghdad and 100 in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

On the other hand, the Dutch Ministry of Defense said it had also stopped its training in Iraq because of “threats”, according to the Dutch news agency. More than 50 Dutch soldiers are training Kurdish forces in Erbil as part of an international coalition against the Da’ash organization, according to the agency.
The Netherlands is involved with two military experts and four civilian experts in NATO’s “capacity-building mission” in Baghdad, the defense ministry site said.

For his part, the member of the Iraqi parliament for the “alliance of al-Fatih,” Mohamed Salem al-Ghabban, a former minister of the interior said, that «the interest of Iraq not be part of the policy of axes with one party or another but things are going not in this direction, especially from the American side». He added that «there is pressure on Iraq to join the axis of anti-Iran». Al-Ghabban added that «this cost Iraq a high price at all levels, if e can say it is not possible in real terms for several factors and for objective reasons». “The issue is complex and requires leaders who are very wise and firm that don’t expose the country, which has just breathed relative stability and a country that is basically fragile and vulnerable, to risks and crises at a time when we can not lose Iran, which has stood with Iraq since the fall of the former regime in 2003 and today.”

For his part, Dr. Hussein Allawi, a professor of national security at the College of Nahrain, said that “the implications of the decision taken by the US State Department to withdraw large numbers of its employees in its embassy in Iraq are clear signs of appreciation of the military position by the US government and consideration of the challenges of the region especially the threats from agents of Iran , according to the description of the US government and the Ministry of Defense, or sympathizers under US sanctions. “The other thing is that the Iraqi government is committed to protecting the US diplomatic mission in Iraq in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” Allawi said. “The official position will be neutral because it recognizes the challenge of the effects on Iraq, but the informal position of the political forces and the Islamic factions will not adhere to neutrality because it will be sympathetic to the Iranian position because of the deep ties with Iran, and therefore the real challenge to the Iraqi state will be on unofficial track “.
On the course of the conflict, Dr. Allawi said that “the conflict is moving towards proxy war more than negotiation, and negotiation is still governed by the conflict of wills between the two parties, as the reduction of demands is one of means, but so far there is no mediator able to manage the negotiations between them.”

Tension between Washington and Tehran has increased since President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw in May last year from Iran’s nuclear deal in 2015. Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Baghdad aimed at cementing ties with Iraq. Pompeo told reporters he had visited because Iranian forces were “stepping up their activities” and that the threat of attacks was “limited.” But Pompeo gave no further details on the plans he was talking about. During his visit, Pompeo met with Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and discussed with them the importance of Iraq’s ability to protect the Americans properly in their country.
The security of the diplomatic mission is a priority for the United States and Pompeo, who in the past criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the bloody attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi.

As tensions increased between Washington and Tehran, Iraq finds itself trapped between its neighbor, Iran, whose regional influence has grown in recent years, and the United States. Iran sees Iraq as an important link with the world in the face of US sanctions. Analysts say deploying missiles and pro-Iranian forces suggests Tehran is at least preparing to threaten the United States with violence.

Most observers suggest that Iraq will be the first possible battleground for confrontations that will not be between the United States and Iran, both of which avoid war and are keen not to enter its circle while the United States threatens to respond to Iran if it attacks its forces and interests in Iraq or the region in return for Iranian warnings of “Harsh” reactions on the United States and its allies. The United States maintains a military presence of more than 5,200 troops deployed on eight bases, including bases in the territory of northern Iraq that the region government is not likely to oppose to use by the Americans against Iran.
Iran is counting on the United States to use the territory of northern Iraq, the Hariri military base in Erbil, to launch attacks on Iranian installations or cities or target its allied forces in Iraq. In remarks made by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief, Hossein Salami, he warned that the territory of northern Iraq would be “at the mercy of Iranian missiles” if any logistical assistance was provided or if the territory of the region was used as a launching pad to strike Iran.

The US Deputy Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs during his visit to Erbil recently asked the KRG and the political leaders of both parties to stop dealing with Iran as part of the US-led campaign against Tehran and its destabilizing role in the region.

The International Coalition of the War against the organization ISIS announced Tuesday night, May 14, “a high alert due to the imminent threat of US forces in Iraq,” at the same time that the coalition announced earlier that the war on Iran is not his duties.

The new US policies include holding Iran directly responsible for any attacks by its groups or organizations or allied forces against the interests of the United States, which is of concern to the governments of some countries, such as Lebanon and Iraq, where active armed groups have long threatened the United States, such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq , Hezbullah of Iraq and the movement of Nujaba and other factions allied to Iran.

The United States believes that “the era of ignoring the Iranian attacks is over” and that Washington will hold Tehran accountable for “the attacks of its agents without separating the Iranian government and its agents.”

Iran has adopted a policy of fighting its foreign wars through its “local” allies in a number of countries in the region – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen – recognizing that a direct confrontation through regular forces or the Revolutionary Guards with the United States or its allies would be costly that burdens military institutions, the Iranian economy, the infrastructure of the nuclear program and the medium-range ballistic missile program.

US-Iranian tensions escalated after the US administration received Israeli intelligence information about an Iranian plot to target US soldiers in Iraq or at the Syrian military base al-Tanf in Syria on the Iraqi-Syrian-Jordanian border triangle by Iraqi armed groups allied to Iran , US media reported that they were fighters from the Asaib Ahl al-Haq And the Iraqi Hezbollah battalions.
Military units of the Popular Army fighters are deployed in western Anbar province and control long distances from the Iraqi-Syrian border. The United States is afraid that Iran to provide some of Iraqi armed groups with medium-range or long-range missiles to target US forces and interests in Iraq and Syria.

According to media reports and statements by US officials, Iran has already supplied factions such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Al-Najba and Hizballah with missiles with a range of up to 300 km, and other ranges of 150 km and 210 km that could reach US targets in Iraq and Syria.
There is a belief in the Iraqi political circles that any military escalation between the United States and Iran , the Iraqi territory will be the most important stage for it , along with the belief that any confrontation between the two countries , the beginning will be from Iraq, which Iran imposes its wide influence through allied Shiite armed groups.

Iran does not seem to need to engage in “direct” military confrontations open to all possibilities with the United States as long as there are “local” forces allied to it in more than one country in the region able to target US interests and individuals, and the interests of its allies in the region. The United States also does not want to strike Iran or engage in a war with it where there are not guaranteed results even with the absence of any standard of balance in the military strength of the two countries.
Iran may find itself in front of the option to move its allied forces to target US interests in Iraq and the region with the rise of the effects of the US “extreme pressure campaign” to blow up the situation in the region and push the international community to pressure the United States to accept to sit at the table with Iran away from the difficult conditions ” impossible “developed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

That the polarization between the United States and Iran is the basis of the crisis that the Iraqi government does not have a clear vision to get out of it, no one in that government can claim that the militias can take a neutral position towards the conflict in order to spare Iraq the consequences of the war if it occurred. Militias consider this war as it is its war and don’t look at it as an outside event , while the Iraqi government when it speaks of a self-distancing attitude, can not hide its concern that the militias are embarrassing it, which it can not confront it because it is too weak to engage in a conflict with the militias.

Iraq’s pro-Iranian militias are still waiting for a US response to a missile attack on the US embassy in Baghdad, with indications that the attack is an Iranian pulse to test Washington’s patience and intentions .The observer believes that the American response will be delayed until the United States recognizes the reality of what is happening in Iraq, which can take a long time and will be a difficult time for the leaders of the militias confused between their loyalty to Iran and the benefits of governance in Iraq that they could lose if the United States end of their power which Muqtada al-Sadr was frank in it when he pointed to the end of Iraq.

Iraqi Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies