Thursday, January 2, 2020

Pro-Iran Groups Take Next Step To Expel US Forces From Iraq


Pro-Iran groups attacking the outside of the US Embassy in Baghdad (EPA)


On December 31 several pro-Iran Hashd groups marched on the U.S. Embassy within Baghdad’s Green Zone in response to American missile strikes upon Kataib Hezbollah bases after the group killed a U.S. contractor. They assaulted the embassy and threatened a sit in camp outside, but that was ended the next day. This appeared to be part of a political strategy by Iran to provoke Washington, distract from the ongoing protests, and push parliament to expel U.S. forces from Iraq.

The Green Zone is the most secure part of Iraq requiring access through multiple checkpoints, but these pro-Tehran groups were able to walk right in. During the morning funerals were held in Baghdad for Kataib Hezbollah fighters killed by the U.S. Then several groups including Kataib Hezbollah, Badr, Saraya al-Khorasani, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, and Harakat Nujaba marched to the Green Zone and were let in by the guards. Since October, protesters in Tahrir Square have attempted to gain access to this area but were stopped by the security forces leading to dozens of deaths and hundreds of wounded. These groups were let right in because the new commander of the Green Zone is General Tahseen al-Aboudi who is a member of the Badr Organization and was formerly with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force. It’s obvious that this was a planned demonstration between these different groups, likely with instructions by Iran to build upon the complaints made against the U.S. after the strikes on Kataib Hezbollah.

Various leaders such as Hadi Amiri of Badr (center) and Qais Khazali of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq (to the right of Amiri) were at the attack upon the Embassy (Twitter)

Babylon Brigades commander Rayan al-Kildany was there from Ninewa highlighting that this was a staged media event for these leaders to be seen and photographed (Twitter)


The Hashd groups then assaulted the outside of the U.S. Embassy while various leaders and the security forces looked on. They burned a guard post and a reception area outside of the embassy and threw rocks over the wall for two days. The Iraqi Security Forces did nothing initially leading the U.S. marines inside the embassy to fire tear gas and American helicopters to fly overhead and fire flares in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Looking on were various Hashd leaders such as head of the Hashd Commission and National Security Adviser Falah Fayad, Kataib Hezbollah leader and deputy head of the Hashd Commission Abu Muhandis, Qais Khazali the head of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, Hadi Amiri of Badr, Riyan al-Kildany the head of the Babylon Brigades from Ninewa, and others. Tents were eventually set up and the attack on the embassy re-started the next day before the Hashd commanders ordered their men back. They said their next move was to have parliament expel U.S. forces. The presence of all those Hashd leaders showed that this was an orchestrated public relations event. All the media was there to report on the happenings and take pictures of the leadership, while there were dozens of posts to social media. The next day the fighters were withdrawn to move onto further steps in a larger strategy.

For one, this event detracted from the ongoing protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and across southern Iraq. Some western media and commentators even conflated the two. Second, this was meant to push the withdrawal of American troops to the forefront of Iraqi politics, which has been dominated by trying to choose a new prime minister after Abdul Mahdi resigned in December. The ruling parties are stuck in negotiations as usual, and now they can focus upon something that many parties agree upon instead. This was the ultimate goal of Iran and its allies in the Hashd. Provoke the United States, use that in a bit of political theater, and then have the Americans kicked out. Ironically, this might be welcomed by President Trump who is no fan of U.S. involvement in Middle East wars.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “US Marines fire tear gas at pro-Iran protesters around embassy in Iraq,” Associated Press, 1/1/20

BBC, “Trump threatens Iran with ‘big price’ to pay over US embassy attack,” 12/31/19
- “US embassy attack: Protesters withdraw after standoff in Iraq,” 1/1/20

Al Hurra, “How did Iranian militia members arrive at the American embassy in the Green Zone?” 12/31/19
- “An Iraqi official reveals .. the handover to Al-Husseini the security of the Green Zone by the order of Soleimani,” 12/26/19
- “Storming the green zone and attacking the american embassy .. video documents “security scandal,”” 12/31/19

Khaleel, Sangar, “Rayan Al Kildany (Chaldean) commander of #Babylon brigade of #PMF among people who attacked the US embassy in Baghdad,” Twitter, 12/31/19

Mamouri, Ali, “Pro-Iranian militias behind US Embassy attack in Baghdad,” Al Monitor, 12/31/19

Al Masalah, “Hezbollah Brigades: The Charge of the Embassy … The first lesson of a long chapter,” 12/31/19

NINA, “Fateh Alliance: The Law To Expel Foreign Forces Out And Vote To Cancel The Security Agreement Will Top The Agenda Of Next Session Of Parliament,” 1/1/20

Rudaw, “US Embassy attack: live updates,” 12/31/19

Salim, Mustafa and Sly, Liz, “Supporters of Iranian-backed militia start withdrawing from besieged US Embassy in Baghdad,” Washington Post, 1/1/20

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