After Allawi, pro-Iran Kata'ib Hezbollah engages in sabre-rattling

Kata'ib Hezbollah announced a March 15 deadline for Iraqis to break off contact with US troops or face consequences.

Sunday 08/03/2020
Protesters chant slogans as they walk past a Kata'ib Hezbollah's billboard during an anti-government demonstration in Basra, last January. (AFP)
Tinderbox. Protesters chant slogans as they walk past a Kata'ib Hezbollah's billboard during an anti-government demonstration in Basra, last January. (AFP)

LONDON- Iraq was left with a political vacuum after Mohammed Allawi withdrew as prime minister-designate and accused political rivals of obstruction.

Allawi announced his decision March 2 after failing to secure a parliamentary quorum for a vote on his proposed cabinet within the constitutionally mandated 30-day deadline, leaving Iraq in a political logjam and leading to increased pressure from the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

“Some are trying to nominate candidates for the prime minister position who are accused of being involved in the US assassination of [Iranian al-Quds Force] commander Qassem Soleimani and PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis,” Abu Ali al-Askari, a security official for Iraq’s Kata'ib Hezbollah, posted on Twitter. “This is a declaration of war against Iraqi people that will burn what remains of Iraq.”

A cross section of Iraqi political forces, particularly Sunni and Kurdish blocs, coalesced against Allawi’s nomination, complaining that his cabinet locked them out of power. Allawi had been backed by the Fatah Alliance -- the PMF’s political wing -- and cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoun Alliance, the two most powerful Shia forces in Iraq.

Caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said he would take a voluntary absence, handing duties to the head of his office, Abu Jihad al-Hashemi, and his cabinet. Hashemi is viewed by many in Baghdad as Iran’s man in Iraq and Abdul-Mahdi’s decision as a stalling tactic given that, if he had remained, Iraq’s constitution would mandate his duties revert to President Barham Salih.

While Iraq waited for a new prime minister-designate to be nominated, Kata'ib Hezbollah turned up the heat with Askari threatening any Iraqis working with US troops.

Addressing the “owners of Iraqi transportation and security companies” via Twitter, Askari issued what he termed a “final and irreversible warning” to cancel their contracts with US forces. He warned any Iraqis with diplomatic or economic ties to US troops to cut off contact.

Kata'ib Hezbollah announced a March 15 deadline for Iraqis to break off contact with US troops or “they will bear the responsibility for their stance of reluctance and stubbornness before God and the people.”

Askari’s statement directly addressed Iraq’s security forces, specifically those under command of the Interior Ministry and counterterrorism units. “To preserve your history and your loyalty to the blood of the martyrs, it is imperative to not meet with the leaders of the occupation,” he said.

Iraq’s military is divided into factions and includes the PMF, of which Kata'ib Hezbollah is part. Askari called on other PMF groups to support Kata'ib Hezbollah’s directive “with everything in their ability.”

Kata'ib Hezbollah’s announcement was in retaliation to the US State Department designating the group’s leader, Ahmad al-Hamidawi, as a “specially designated global terrorist.” Hamidawi replaced Muhandis.

A statement from the group, also issued March 4, accused one of Iraq’s most senior officials of collusion in the assassination of Soleimani and Muhandis.

“This historic crime was carried out with the knowledge of one of Iraq’s three presidents who facilitated this cowardly act,” the statement said.

The term “Iraq’s three presidencies” is believed to be a reference to the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament.

“We are prepared to provide what information we have on this issue exclusively to Mr Adel Abdul-Mahdi in person,” the statement concluded.

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