Kadhimi stresses intent to fight death squads, curb Iran’s influence

Iraqi PM to embark on regional tour including Saudi Arabia.
Monday 24/08/2020
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks during a meeting with security leaders, in Basra, Iraq August 22, 2020.  (REUTERS)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks during a meeting with security leaders, in Basra, Iraq August 22, 2020. (REUTERS)

BASRA (Iraq) – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi responded forcefully to the threat represented by the Iraqi militias loyal to Iran, after they unleashed their death squads in Baghdad and Basra to liquidate activists opposed to Iranian hegemony over the political, security and economic decision-making process in Iraq.

Right after his arrival at Baghdad airport from the United States, Kadhimi headed to Basra to visit the family of activist Reham Yaqoub, who was assassinated last Wednesday, where he offered his condolences to her relatives.

Reham Yaqoub, a young physician in her late twenties, was known for her bold criticism of the behaviour of pro-Iranian Shia militias in Basra, and had publicly called for stronger ties with the Arab Gulf, the West and the United States.

At the Yaqoub home, Kadhimi swore “on the blood of the martyr, that her killers will not escape punishment no matter how long it takes, and that the blood of the martyr Reham and martyr Hisham al-Hashemi, and martyr Tahseen Osama will be avenged.”

Hisham al-Hashemi, a prominent expert of extremist religious groups, was gunned down in front of his home in Baghdad about 45 days ago by gunmen believed to be affiliated with the Katai’eb Hezbollah militia, while activist Tahseen Osama was killed on the fourteenth of this month at the hands of unknown persons in Basra as well. In both cases, the authorities have yet to identify the assassins and make arrests.

Speaking from Basra, Kadhimi stressed that “time is running out on the assassins and criminals,” pointing out that “the words of martyr Reham Yaqoub have brought terror into the hearts of the cowardly criminals, and that her charitable community actions have destabilised them and made them commit their shameful crime. What worse depravity than this ugliness? But their evil has turned against them, and the young martyr cut down in the spring of her life has become an icon in Basra.”

Iraqi political sources considered Kadhimi’s visit to the victim’s home in Basra, a precedent that could buttress a new relationship between the authorities and the citizens.

They pointed out to The Arab Weekly that, “after having seen all forms of arrogant behaviour practiced against the citizens by the parties, militias and religious institutions, the prime minister has taken a step in the opposite direction, by acting as a state official who is with the people in his official capacity and addresses the issues from a position that connects him to their concerns.”

A journalist close to the Iraqi prime minister’s office emphasised that this step does not represent an attempt to gain popularity as much as it marks a dangerous shift in the political mood. He indicated that this mood will lead to pulling the rug of power from under the feet of party leaders, militia leaders and even clerics who defended the use of violence against protesters as a religiously sanctioned act.

“It will be said that Kadhimi was smart and a high-level politician. All that is true, but what is also true is that the man is firm and he behaves like a true statesman. This is exactly what the Iraqis have been missing since the collapse of the Iraqi state after the US invasion,” explained the journalist.

Minister of Interior Othman Al-Ghanimi said that a detachment of security forces was dispatched to apprehend the killers of activists in Basra Governorate, while Basra police announced it had carried out during the past 72 hours, and on orders from the ministry, a major security campaign for the arrest of suspects wanted by the judiciary in a number of regions of the province.

The police said that they had arrested in Basra two suspects wanted for crimes related to Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, as well as 304 other individuals wanted for various criminal acts. They also seized 12 Kalashnikov rifles, an RBK rifle, two GC rifles, and various other weaponry and personal pistols.

Observers say that the Basra security campaign, which coincided with the arrival of Kadhimi to the governorate, carried serious warnings to Iraqi militias affiliated with Iran, as well as messages meant for the US about Baghdad’s ability to deal with the threat of outlaw Tehran-backed armed groups.

Members of the Iraqi delegation that travelled to Washington with Kadhimi said that the Iraqi prime minister pledged during his meeting with US President Donald Trump to work to stop the destructive Iranian influence in his country.

Observers say that Kadhimi, who is scheduled to leave Baghdad again to take part in a summit in Jordan with Jordanian King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi before visiting Saudi Arabia, needs to persuade Arab and regional partners of his government’s ability to preserve the country’s sovereignty and address nefarious Iranian activities.

There was no better place than Basra, which was seething in popular anger due to the wave of assassinations carried out by the pro-Iranian Iraqi militias, for Kadhimi to reassure the region and the world that his government is determined to fulfil the promise on which it was formed, namely to combat Iran’s harmful interference in the country.

Political sources in Baghdad revealed to The Arab Weekly that arrangements were being made for an upcoming visit by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to Saudi Arabia, indicating that the visit might take place next week.

The sources stated that the prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia will be the last leg of a regional and international tour that included Iran, the United States and Jordan, where he is supposed to arrive on Monday.

Economic cooperation and connecting Iraq’s electricity grid with those of the Gulf countries will top the agenda of Kadhimi’s visit to Riyadh, during which he is expected to meet with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Politics and security will not be absent from the agenda of this visit, in light of the war of messages taking place between the Iraqi government and the militias loyal to Iran.