Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq threaten Iraqi president for meeting Trump
Iraqi President Barham Salih met US President Donald Trump on Wednesday at Davos during the economic summit.
By SETH J. FRANTZMANPublished: JANUARY 26, 2020 17:59Advertisement
Iraqi President Barham Salih met US President Donald Trump on Wednesday at Davos during the economic summit. Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq are outraged and have threatened Iraq’s leader on social media and in incitement-laden speeches.This is the latest attempt by Iran to try to muzzle Iraqis, and use its powerful network of allied militias to threaten Iraqis who don’t toe the Iranian line.Iran’s Press TV claims that Salih’s meeting Trump “angers the nation.”Salih was appointed president of Iraq in 2018. He is a Kurdish academic and politician with roots in the Patriotic Union of the Kurdistan party. Although he is seen as close to the US, his party has also had warm relations with Iran.Like many Kurds in the autonomous Kurdistan region, he therefore balances between the US and Iran. Historically, many Kurds have supported the US, but Iran has played a slightly more positive role in Kurdish regions than some regimes, such as Saddam Hussein who committed genocide against Kurds.Salih as president has called for the rights of protesters to be respected, but has reiterated numerous times to both Trump and to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the importance of respecting Iraq’s sovereignty and not making Iraq into a battlefield or proxy conflict. However, Iraq is at a crossroads with Iranian-backed militias, called the Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Units. These groups want to become a kind of primary pillar of the Iraqi state, like the IRGC in Iran. They have become an official paramilitary force, and their party in parliament is the second largest. They have their own munitions warehouses and operate secret prisons. The US has labeled some of them terrorists, or sanctioned them. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy of the PMU and head of Kata’ib Hezbollah, was killed by a US drone on January 3 with Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.Iraq’s militias wanted to tell the president not to meet Trump. A Kata’ib Hezbollah spokesman Mohamad Mohie told Al-Jazeera that Salih has “positioned himself against the Iraqi people.” They demand he step down. He is no longer “welcome.” This is a threat to his life, and it has been reiterated by other militias. The PMU have often made anti-Kurdish statements, especially during the 2017 Kurdish region’s independence referendum, and there are views that continue to see Salih as a “separatist” because he is Kurdish. The PMU played a role in removing the Kurdish flag from Kirkuk in October 2017 and pushing Kurdish Peshmerga, the armed forces of the Kurdish region, out of Kirkuk.Other militia also joined in to bash Salih. “We no longer accept him,” said secretary-general Nasser al-Shammari of the Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba militia. That militia was sanctioned by the US in March. “His actions are treasonous.” Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, whose leader Qais Khazali was sanctioned by the US in December for harming protesters, slammed Salih. Speaking from a hidden facility, likely because he fears US drones might kill him, he claimed that Salih was not working to expel US troops. The PMU wants US troop to leave, and some of its units have targeted US bases at the behest of Iran.Another Iraqi politician from the Fatah Alliance, the PMU’s party in parliament that is led by Hadi al-Amiri, also attacked Salih, claiming “a statement should not violate the constitution and sovereignty.” Clearly the PMU and its numerous militias are paving the way for rallies against the president. The Prime Minister of Iraq resigned in November, after Iraqi security forces and members of the PMU murdered hundreds of protesters. The protests continue, but the PMU wants to crush them and to try to channel Iraqi anger against the US.Salih has found himself in the middle. He said he would resign in December rather than be forced to choose a new prime minister who was not acceptable to the protesters. However, the old Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi continues to remain in office, and it is unclear what might come next as the power vacuum in Baghdad grows. Into that vacuum comes Iran’s influence and the growth of the power of the militias. The only thing remaining in the public square to stand against them has been protesters, mostly from Baghdad and southern Iraq, who have challenged Iran and hope to have an Iraq that is neither dominated by the US or Iran.
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