Iran thwarted in attempt to manipulate new Iraqi government

Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Adel Abdul Mahdi arrives at the Parliament building in the heavily guarded Green Zone, Baghdad. (AP)
Updated 26 October 2018
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Iran thwarted in attempt to manipulate new Iraqi government

  • Cabinet meets after Suleimani fails to have Tehran-backed ministers appointed
  • Iran is seeking to tighten its control over the security issue in Iraq and the ministries of defense and interior are the cornerstones of this, says Al-Binna negotiator

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi Cabinet met outside the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad on Thursday for the first time in 15 years.

The meeting, chaired by new Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, followed an acrimonious session of the Iraqi Parliament that had lasted into the early hours of Thursday.

The session was supposed to be a rubber stamp for new government ministers agreed by the coalition of the two largest Shiite parliamentary blocs — Reform, sponsored by the influential cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, and Al-Binna’a, the Iran-backed alliance led by Hadi Al-Amiri, commander of Badr Organization, the most powerful Shiite armed faction.

Instead, the session descended into bickering and arguments over the background and history of some of the ministerial candidates, and two in particular: Proposed Interior Minister Falih Al-Fayadh, a former national security adviser and a key ally of Amiri, and Defense Ministry candidate Fener Faisal, former commander of dictator Saddam Hussein’s private jet squadron.

Both men were nominated by Al-Binna’a, but the Iran-backed group was out-maneuvered by Sadr’s allies in the Reform alliance. After the prime minister and 14 of the 22 proposed ministers had been approved, Reform staged a walkout — leaving the Parliament without a quorum, and therefore unable to proceed.

“Amiri and his allies broke their deals with us,” a leading Reform negotiator told Arab News. “We told them clearly that the candidates for the security posts had to be independent, and exclusively nominated by Abdul Mahdi, but they insisted on putting partisan names forward at the last minute.

“They thought they could twist our arm and embarrass us so we would vote for their candidates without any consideration of their previous ties. But a deal is a deal. We said no to those eight candidates, and that means no.”

The attempt to manipulate the ministerial appointments was led by the Iranian military officer Gen. Qassim Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the overseas unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He met most of the Iranian Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political allies in Iraq this week to promote his candidates, negotiators told Arab News.

“Iran is seeking to tighten its control over the security issue in Iraq and the ministries of Defense and Interior are the cornerstones of this,” an Al-Binna’a negotiator told Arab News. “Suleimani has been pressuring to back them. Sadr and his allies were smart enough to abort his attempts. They won this round.”   

After the disputes of the night before, there were simple and quiet decrees in Baghdad on Thursday morning to exchange authorities and offices between Mahdi, his predecessor Haidar Abadi and the members of their governments. The new prime minister was sworn in, followed by a meeting of the new Cabinet at Mahdi’s temporary office outside the Green Zone.

“We have presented an ambitious and detailed ministerial program with clear time limits and will work to implement it,” Mahdi said during a televised ceremony. 

“We have many challenges and have to work hard to develop the economy, activate the labor market, provide services and meet all the demands of our people.”


Turkey-backed fighters await ‘zero hour’ to attack Syria’s Manbij

Updated 17 January 2019
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Turkey-backed fighters await ‘zero hour’ to attack Syria’s Manbij

  • The YPG fear the US withdrawal will open the way for a threatened Turkish attack into northern Syria
  • The YPG have also left Manbij but retain influence over the Kurdish-allied groups

JARABLUS, SYRIA: Opposition commander Adnan Abu Faisal and his army are encamped near the frontline in northern Syria, waiting to launch an offensive on his home city of Manbij.

But they are not the ones who will decide whether to march on the strategically important city, held for more than two years by Kurdish forces supported by the US.

The decision will depend on Turkey, the main backer of Abu Faisal’s group, and on how contacts evolve between Washington and Ankara over the US plans to withdraw forces from Syria, a move set to reshape a major theater of the war.

The US and Turkey are allies both in the NATO defense alliance and in the fight against Daesh, but Ankara sees the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces that helped the US-led coalition drive Daesh out of Manbij in 2016 as a security threat.

The YPG fear the US withdrawal will open the way for a threatened Turkish attack into northern Syria, including Manbij, but US President Donald Trump has warned Turkey of “economic devastation” if it goes ahead with the attack.

Abu Faisal’s fighters are awaiting orders near Jarablus, a town held by Turkey and its Syrian opposition allies about 35 km south of Manbij. The frontline in the area runs through open farmland where wheat and corn are usually grown.

“We are ready with our forces ... for ‘zero hour’ to begin any military action,” Abu Faisal, whose forces have more than 300 vehicles including pickup trucks and armored vehicles provided by Turkey, told Reuters.

“Preparations are going at full speed,” he said.

Abu Faisal, 36, was an army captain before Syria’s civil war began in 2011 but defected from the Syrian Army in 2012 to join the fight against Bashar Assad.

Abu Faisal helped wrest control of Manbij from the Syrian Army early in the conflict but fled when it was seized by Daesh in 2014 and has not set foot there since then.

The YPG have also left Manbij but retain influence over the Kurdish-allied groups that hold the city 30 km from the border with Turkey.

Manbij lies near the junction of three separate blocks of territory that form spheres of Russian, Turkish and, for now, US influence.

The US military pullout will not only leave Kurds exposed to possible confrontation with Turkey but will also open the way for the expansion of Russian and Iranian sway into the areas that US forces will be leaving.

The US military deployed into Syria as part of the fight against Daesh but officials later indicated wider objectives included containing Iran, Assad’s main regional ally. 

Late last month, the YPG called on Assad’s forces to protect Manbij from attack by Turkey. Syrian government forces, which are backed by Russia, answered the YPG appeal by deploying outside Manbij.

Abu Faisal’s fighters, backed by Turkish forces, made their own advance toward the city the same day but stopped short of an attack.