Developments test Kadhimi’s ability to check militias

Iraq’s militias pose the greatest challenge to the new prime minister.
Wednesday 20/05/2020
A member of Hashd al-Shaabi holds a flag of Kataib Hezbollah militia group during a protest outside the main gate of the US Embassy in Baghdad, last December. (AFP)
Threats of violence. A member of Hashd al-Shaabi holds a flag of Kataib Hezbollah militia group during a protest outside the main gate of the US Embassy in Baghdad, last December. (AFP)

BAGHDAD-An armed group, believed to be Kata’ib Hezbollah, launched a missile attack on the Green Zone late Monday evening, the first such attack since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was sworn in earlier this month.

An Iraqi official said the rocket struck a site near the US Embassy in the Green Zone, where many government buildings and foreign embassies are located. The attack came days after  Badr militia leader Hadi al-Amiri reportedly made a pledge to the new prime minister to halt aggressive action against US interests in Iraq.

Although the missile attack did not target the American Embassy in the Green Zone directly, it was sufficient evidence that Iraqi militias loyal to Iran do not intend to change their aggressive behaviour towards the US.

A preliminary investigation indicated the rocket was launched from the nearby Al-Idrisi neighbourhood on Palestine Street.

An Iraqi official said the rocket had struck near the US Embassy, without elaborating.

Previous attacks have frequently targeted US presence in Iraq, including the embassy and Iraqi bases hosting American troops.

Observers viewed the recent missile attack on the Green Zone as a test of the government’s commitment to controlling armed groups that threaten international diplomatic missions and foreign forces in Iraq.

Kadhimi began his work as PM by taking steps to restore the power of regular armed forces whose weakness reflect on the Iraqi state.

In a letter to the public, Kadhimi said that he will put “weapons and firepower in the hands of the state,” hold early elections, and meet the demands of the country’s protest movement to “erase the detested legacy of the spoils system.”

Restricting weapons to state and military institutions means dismantling militias that are not part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), and forcing militias to submit to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

In effect, this would clip the wings of Iran’s proxies in the country and limit their ability to attack US interests there.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi uses mobile phone at his office in Baghdad, Iraq May 9. (Reuters)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi uses mobile phone at his office in Baghdad, Iraq May 9. (Reuters)

The new administration of Kadhimi, who came to power earlier this month, is preparing for strategic dialogue with Washington that is expected to take place next month.

The talks will touch on security and economic cooperation between the countries. The issue of militias acting outside of state control is also expected to be on the agenda.

Kadhimi reinstated General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi , a popular military figure who oversaw the campaign to dislodge ISIS from Mosul in 2017,  as the head of Counter-Terrorism Services (CTS), putting him back in charge of units created and armed by the Americans.

He also reinstated Brigadier General Yahya Rasool as Iraqi military spokesman. Rasool is another respected military figure who had been relegated to an administrative role in April and replaced by Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf, known for his close ties to the leaders of the PMF.

Kadhimi also visited military and security institutions, sending them a clear message of support and calling for the need to control the country’s weapons and rigorously apply the law to everyone.

Experts say Iraq’s militias pose the greatest challenge to Kadhimi, noting that the PMF’s leaders, which have close ties to Iran, are using their influence to limit the role of the security and military establishment, including the army.

Kata’ib Hezbollah announced early-on its hostility to the new prime minister and accused him of complicity in the killing of Iranian Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani and PMF deputy chairman Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by American forces in an air raid near Baghdad airport in January.

The Iraqi prime minister still needs more time to take bolder action against the militias. For the time being, even his government remains incomplete due to continuing disputes over key portfolios.