Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Pro-Iran Hashd Brigades And Now Israeli Strikes Making A Joke Of PM Mahdi’s Claims Iraq Neutral In Regional Conflicts

Explosion at Balad Base blamed in August on Israel (Shafaaq News)

Prime Minister Adil Mahdi has repeatedly said that he wants to keep Iraq neutral in the disputes between the United States, Iran and its neighbors. Unfortunately, elements of the Hashed aligned with Tehran have repeatedly carried out operations against Americans, western energy companies, and neighboring states. Now Israel is attacking some of those same groups shredding the prime minister’s hopes of keeping his country out of the regional conflicts. a

Hashed Brigades have attacked foreign targets both within and without Iraq. Things started with rocket attacks upon U.S. personnel. That began with a rocket attack upon the Al-Asad air base in Anbar in February fired from an area in east Anbar garrisoned by Liwa al-Muntadher and Kataib Ansar al-Hujja. In May, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq fired rockets at the Taji base in Salahaddin, and Kataib Sayid al-Shuhada and the Imam Ali Brigades were accused of doing the same to the Green Zone in the center of the capital. The next month there was a similar attack upon the Balad base in Salahaddin. Second, in July three IEDs hit a supply convoy heading for the U.S. embassy. Third, foreign oil companies began receiving fire with the Burjesia camp in Basra in June and then an IED against a security vehicle working for BP in that same province in August. Finally, in May, Kataib Hezbollah used its base in Babil’s Jurf al-Sakhr to launch armed drones that exploded at a Saudi oil pumping station. Many of the older militias that joined the Hashed such as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah were created with the help of Iran to attack the Americans in Iraq. Some of the newer groups are doing the same. These assaults came as a result of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy on Tehran as well as the Saudis’ war against the Houthis in Yemen. The Mahdi government has claimed neutrality but has said little about these attacks.

The latest twist is that Israel has entered the fray, attacking pro-Iran groups. Israel was blamed for an explosion on July 19 at a camp in Amerli used by Quwat al-Turkmen and Fawj Amerli that killed one Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander. Lebanon’s Hezbollah also reportedly had personnel at the base. July 28 Camp Ashraf in Diyala used by the Badr Organization was hit. August 12, a munitions dump at Camp al-Saq in southern Baghdad used by Kataib Jund al-Imam and Kataib Sayid al-Shuhada blew up. August 19 the Balad air base was struck, and finally on August 25 a Kataib Hezbollah commander was killed along the Anbar-Syrian border in what was claimed to be a drone strike. Two U.S. officials told the New York Times that Israel was behind some of these strikes, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a number of statements about Iran not being safe anywhere that seem to confirm the claims as well. These bases were believed to house long range missiles that could strike Israel, and to be shipping Iranian weapons to Syria. Many of the militias supported by Tehran were fighting in Syria before the Hashed were created in 2014, and have continued to do so since then. Analysts also believe that Iran moved some of its missiles out of Syria and into Iraq thinking that they would be safe there. This has thrown the Mahdi government into a crisis forcing it to meet with some of these Hashed units to try to stop a further escalation, while being unable to protect its air space and sovereignty from either Israel or Iran.

The root of this dilemma is the fact that PM Mahdi has no control over the Hashed. While they are officially part of the Iraqi security forces, they are receiving the support of Baghdad without being beholden to it. The result is that those friendly to Iran continue to help it in Syria, in Iraq, and now in Saudi Arabia. This is just the latest challenge to the authority of the government that these groups have posed, and it has been found wanting every time. It does not want a confrontation with these Hashed units because they still are held in high regards by sectors of the public, and it would also bring the wrath of Tehran. That leaves Mahdi in a no win situation where his statements are becoming more meaningless. He has to condemn foreign strikes to stand up for his country knowing that the Iran friendly Hashed are ultimately responsible. At the same time, he continues to claim that Iraq is not taking sides when those same brigades are doing just that. Mahdi came into office in a tough situation as he ran as an independent and had no political party behind him. He has been criticized more and more for being feckless and this is just adding to that image.


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