The Baghdad we were told existed does not; the one we warned about does

Both Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper also communicated to Baghdad that it had a role to play in curbing the activities of Soleimani’s militias.

Protests at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad (photo credit: REUTERS)
Protests at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is time to reevaluate our relationship with the Iraqi government while supporting the Iraqi people.
The Iraqi people are protesting a government they view as beholden to Tehran. The events of the last week have proven that true.
On December 27, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force Maj.-Gen. Qasem Soleimani tested a red line in Iraq, a red line communicated to Tehran that implied – short of killing an American – there would be no US military response. That night, a terrorist organization created, trained and funded by Soleimani and commanded by trusted Soleimani lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes launched a 30-rocket salvo at an Iraqi airbase, an Iraqi airbase where Americans, at the invitation of Baghdad, advise and assist Iraqi security forces in their fight against ISIS remnants.
The rocket attack was one of many recent attacks on US bases across Iraq. The difference? This night, Hezbollah killed an American, wounded four American service members and several Iraqi security forces.
After a slew of rocket attacks on Baghdad International Airport, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a warning to Iran on December 13th.
“We have told the Islamic Republic of Iran that using a proxy force to attack an American interest will not prevent us from responding against the prime actor,” Pompeo told CNN in an interview with Elise Labott. “We will not let Iran get away with using a proxy force to attack an American interest. Iran will be held accountable for those incidents.”
Both Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper also communicated to Baghdad that it had a role to play in curbing the activities of Soleimani’s militias, and if not, then the US would take actions against them.
After the December 27 Hezbollah attack, the US took action. On December 13, Pompeo warned the Islamic Republic that it would be held responsible for any attacks against American interests. On December 27, Hezbollah killed an American. On December 29, the US Responded.
The US hit five bases along the Iraqi-Syrian border. Of all the places to hit, these were the ones that hurt Soleimani and Hezbollah the most. They are the bases built to support Iran’s land bridge and offensive operations in Syria against Israel.
Instead of condemning Hezbollah for launching rocket attacks on an Iraqi base against a joint force of Americans and Iraqi security forces, on December 30, the government of Iraq condemned the United States for defending itself against a terrorist organization that answers to Soleimani, and one that Baghdad is powerless to control or to which it is simply beholden.
Iraqis call Mohandes “the defacto prime minister of Iraq.” On December 31, he walked into the Green Zone unopposed and attacked the US Embassy with his militia and several others that fall under his control. Baghdad did nothing to stop him.
MOHANDES IS the commander of Hezbollah – a designated terrorist group responsible for killing Americans – and the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Units. He is also a leading figure in a grouping of political parties beholden to Tehran. The leaders of the party with the largest voting bloc in the Council of Representatives organized, led and attended the violent protests and attacks on the US Embassy.
Leaders of the Badr Corps, Asaib Ahl al-Haqq and Hezbollah stood proud in the crowd along with Falah al-Fayyad, Iraq’s national security adviser and Popular Mobilization Forces official. This is essentially Iran’s ruling party in Iraq. The grouping forms the Bina Party, which decides who runs Iraq.
These were not anti-Iran protesters turned anti-American. These are the very militias that are killing Iraqis in Tahrir Square; the very same Iraqis that are protesting against Iran and Iran’s influence on this government; the Iraqis who were killed by Soleimani’s militias while the Iraqi Security Forces did nothing to protect them; the same protesters trying to cross the bridge and enter the Green Zone – not to protest America – but to protest outside the Iranian Embassy in the Green Zone.
Let’s call it like it is. The US hit a designated terrorist group: Hezbollah. A group the government of Iraq is terrified of. The current government of Iraq and Iraqi security forces are incapable of dealing with Soleimani’s militias. The US had no choice but to take action.
Now Soleimani and his Iraqi counterparts will move the Council of Representatives to expel the US
Baghdad has not shown the capability or willingness to secure its borders and territory from malign actors who continue to destabilize the country and the region. Iraq’s lack of unity will continue to incubate internal and external existential threats that the US and the international community will have to deal with.
We should listen to the Iraqi people opposed to this government, and Iran’s control of it, and stay. Disfavor Baghdad to favor Iraqis. Stay like we are in Syria – to ensure the continued defeat of ISIS and disrupt IRGC-Quds Force operations.
There will be more attacks, and the US needs to be prepared to punish Iran directly by hitting the IRGC and its Quds Force. The US has moved in additional forces for force protection – they are not there to defend against ISIS – they are to defend against militias directed by Tehran that have primacy over Iraqi sovereignty.
The US needs to tell Baghdad that all loan guarantees for the $30 billion for “reconstruction” – money that will fall into the hands of corrupt officials tied to Iran – will end if Baghdad continues to bow to Iran.
The US needs to sanction and designate Hadi al-Amiri and Falah al-Fayyad for their role in the attack on the US Embassy and the killing of innocent unarmed Iraqis.
Pompeo took the first step by calling Al-Amiri an Iranian proxy.
More important, it’s time to target “dust off” the target packets against Soleimani and Mohandes – they are enemies of Iraq, the region and the United States.
The writer is a former intelligence officer who served in Iraq from 2005-2010 and who works on Iranian sponsored terrorism. He is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.