Iran’s maximum pressure on Iraq to remove US forces

The Ayatollah stressed that while Iran does not interfere in Iraq, it is the “corrupt” Americans who are interfering there and who only sow destruction in the region.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi as they wear protective masks, in Tehran, Iran, July 21, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi as they wear protective masks, in Tehran, Iran, July 21, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a tag-team pressure campaign aimed at Iraq, the Iranian leadership sent one after another of its heavies to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi during rounds of talks in Tehran this week.
Kadhimi is a relatively new face in Baghdad, a former intelligence chief and activist who became prime minister this spring after Iraq failed twice to find another man to replace Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned last year due to protests.
Kadhimi is an energetic man who is compassionate toward activists and appears to want to do the best for Iraq. But he is stuck in the middle of rising Iran-US tensions, as well as the frequent attacks on US forces by Iranian-backed militias that are also part of his security forces.
These groups – like Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and Badr – all seem to operate with their own clerics and power structure rather than listen to Baghdad’s decisions. When Kadhimi tried to have counterterrorism forces detain members of Kataib Hezbollah, the men were quickly released and celebrated by burning the prime minister’s photo.
The Iraqi leader is now on a regional tour. He went to Iran on Tuesday to meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The ayatollah stressed that while Iran does not interfere in Iraq, it is the “corrupt” Americans who are interfering in Iraq and who only sow destruction in the region. Kadhimi listened and waited for the ayatollah to end his speech. He went on, accusing the US of spreading chaos and targeting Iraq. He said the US opposes the close political, religious and cultural contacts between Baghdad and Tehran.
Khamenei also said that the US committed atrocities in January when a US airstrike killed Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, the head of Kataib Hezbollah, and IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani. “They killed your guest at your house and explicitly confessed to the crime,” the Iranian leader said. Soleimani, in this sense, was the “guest” in Iraq.
This appeared to be a bit more than a friendly conversation – almost a threat that Iraq had not protected Soleimani. Iran has vowed revenge against the US killing; Iraq could be where the revenge takes place. Iran has already fired missiles at US forces on Iraqi bases.
KADHIMI ALSO met with Ali Shamkhani, head of the Supreme National Security Council. Shamkhani visited Iraq earlier this year to pressure Iraq to expel US forces. There are thousands of American personnel in Iraq as part of the anti-ISIS coalition. In March when pro-Iranian groups fired rockets at US forces on a base, killing three, Washington retaliated with more airstrikes. The US generals at CENTCOM call this “contested deterrence,” a word that lacks clear meaning but apparently means that Iran is sort of deterred from carrying out more attacks, but not completely deterred.
Shamkhani’s meeting with Kadhimi was meant to be yet another piece of Iran’s maximum pressure to get US forces out of Iraq. He said the US is “evil” and that it is a “malicious, terrorist” element in Iraq that is leading to insecurity. Washington, meanwhile, says it wants to continue strategic dialogue with Baghdad, which kicked off earlier this year.
Shamkhani also condemned “counterrevolutionary” groups in the autonomous Kurdistan region and said they must be dealt with. This refers to dissident groups that oppose Iran’s regime. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
recently visited Iraq and the Kurdistan region, where he also pressured against the hosting of any dissidents. The Kurdistan Region is a powerful autonomous area but is also facing challenges from new Turkish airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has bases in the mountains. It is now being pressured by Iran as well.
The main message of the Shamkhani meeting was Iran-Iraq cooperation. Kadhimi thanked Iran for help during the ISIS war and said the two countries would remain brothers. Iran said it hoped Iraq would play a greater role in regional security, apparently meaning helping Iran work with Syria and perhaps be a conduit for Iran’s weapons trafficking to Syria. Iran sent ballistic missiles to Iraq in 2018 and 2019 and was trafficking precision-guided munitions via Iraq’s Al-Qaim border area with Syria.
Iraq has recently tried to replace some units on the border, to make the border more secure. Regional security, for Iran, means regional Iranian hegemony. Iraq is Iran’s “near abroad” in this equation. The pressure on Kadhimi was intense during the recent visit – and Iran showed it means business in terms of pressuring the US to leave Iraq.