Tehran exerts pressure to undermine US, Iraq talks
LONDON--Iran’s new Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC’s) Air Force, slammed May 31 any negotiations between Baghdad and Washington as “futile.”
Ghalibaf, who was elected Speaker May 28 by a chamber dominated by ultra-conservatives, said the newly formed parliament “considers negotiations with the US, which the the axis of global arrogance, or appeasement of it, to be futile and harmful.”
Ghalibaf also vowed revenge for a US drone attack near Baghdad airport in January that killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, a former commander of the Quds Force, an elite unit in the IRGC.
“Our strategy in confronting the terrorist America is to finish the revenge for martyr Soleimani’s blood,” he told lawmakers, pledging “the total expulsion of America’s terrorist army from the region.”
Ghalibaf’s comments come following media reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had selected a team of negotiators to hold strategic talks with the US.
Shia blocs in the Iraqi parliament voted last January on a resolution to expel foreign forces from Iraq, amid a boycott of Sunni and Kurdish parliamentary blocs.
Iran’s allies in Iraq hoped to use the resolution as a launchpad to drive American forces out of Iraq, but Sunni and Kurdish opposition blocs have so far held them back.
Shia political forces also lobbied to keep former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in his post as long as possible, despite his resignation following popular protests that erupted at the beginning of last October, as a way to pressure US forces out.
Ghalibaf’s recent remarks were viewed as part of a renewed pressure campaign at Iraq’s government to downgrade ties with Washington.
The US-Iraq talks will reportedly be held by negotiating teams divided into political, military and economic groups.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the talks are part of efforts to balance the two opposing powers and keep Iraq from becoming a battleground.
According to the newspaper, “the US and Iran have quietly coalesced behind an Iraqi politician both see as critical to preventing further chaos in his country.”
It stressed that the prime minister has already made solid progress in reaching out to demonstrators opposed to Iranian influence in the country.
The Wall Street Journal continued: “Despite the decline in popular protests that forced his predecessor to resign, the public anger is greater than ever.”
Through the talks that were initially agreed to in late 2019 by former Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi, the US and Iraq are hoping to forge a stronger relationship. But any future ties will depend on how Baghdad deals with Iran.
Decades-old tensions between Tehran and Washington have soared in the past year, with the countries twice approaching the brink of direct confrontation.
Tensions have been rising since 2018, when US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear accord and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.
That was followed by the US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January that killed Soleimani, a highly popular military leader in the Islamic Republic.
Days later, Iran fired a barrage of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq in retaliation, but Trump opted against taking any military action in response.