Iraqi premier’s US-Iran mediation credited for averting ‘hell’ of war

US President Donald Trump, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (AP)
Updated 20 May 2019
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Iraqi premier’s US-Iran mediation credited for averting ‘hell’ of war

  • Iraqi leaders fear that if war broke out, Iraq would be ‘the first point of confrontation’ between US and Iran

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s mediation between the US and Iran amid current military tensions was on Friday credited for averting the “hell” of war.
During the past few weeks the premier has been acting as a “postman” for Washington and Tehran, two of Abdul-Mahdi’s advisers told Arab News.
However, Shiite leaders and the commanders of two armed factions linked to Iran have told Arab News that short-range rockets have been handed to two Iraqi groups over the past fortnight “to be ready to strike US targets inside Iraq if the United States were to strike Iran.”
Tensions between the Americans and Iranians have been rising since the US withdrew from a nuclear agreement and imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, moves which prompted veiled Iranian threats to chokepoint shipping lanes in the region.
The dispute reached a peak over recent days following attacks on four tanker ships and two Saudi oil installations, all blamed on Iranian-backed militia groups.
Iraq has been a major US-Iran battleground since 2003. Iran has significant influence in Iraq and controls dozens of Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Kurdish armed factions it has helped form, fund, train and equip. These fighting forces have been operating as Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria, and most of the US’s interests in both countries are located within the range of their rockets.

Mediation role
“(US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo asked Adel Abdul-Mahdi to be a back channel of communication between them (the US) and the Iranians to convey some messages, and the Iranians agreed to that,” one of the Iraqi premier’s advisers said.

Playing the role of mediation, is a decision taken by the Iraqi leadership to avoid the outbreak of war between the two sides.

Iraqi premier’s adviser

“We will not wait until the gates of Hell open. Transferring messages between the two parties and playing the role of mediation, is a decision taken by the Iraqi leadership to avoid the outbreak of war between the two sides. Iran has agreed also to allow Iraqis to intermediate between the two sides,” the adviser added.
Pompeo made a brief visit to Baghdad two weeks ago, during which he passed on the first US message to the Iranians.
The second of Abdul-Mahdi’s advisers said: “Pompeo asked Abdul-Mahdi to take back the rockets of the armed factions and to tell the Iranians to leave US bases and camps in Iraq out of their calculations and to distance them from what is happening in the Gulf. Pompeo said that targeting any of the American interests inside Iraq would be answered (by hitting targets) deep inside Iran.”
Iran relies mainly on its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen to hit the interests of its rivals in the region. Intelligence reports have proved that the targeting of four ships in the port of Fujairah early this week by drones, were carried out by Yemeni militias with Iranian encouragement.

Point of confrontation
Iraqi leaders fear that if war broke out, Iraq would be “the first point of confrontation” between the US and Iran. More than 5,000 US troops are deployed in joint camps and military bases with Iraqi forces across the country, which has the largest US Embassy in the world, two consulates in Irbil and Basra, as well as dozens of US oil companies and hundreds of workers in various sectors.
At least three prominent Shiite leaders and the commanders of two armed factions linked to Iran told Arab News that short-range rockets had been handed over to two Iraqi groups over the past two weeks “to be ready to strike US targets inside Iraq if the United States were to strike Iran.”
They added that “a list of US strategic targets in Iraq and the region has been prepared to be within the range of rockets of these factions when needed.”

FASTFACT

 

• Tensions between the Americans and Iranians have been rising since the US withdrew from a nuclear agreement and imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, moves which prompted veiled Iranian threats to chokepoint shipping lanes in the region.

• Iran relies mainly on its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen to hit the interests of its rivals in the region.

• More than 5,000 US troops are deployed in joint camps and military bases with Iraqi forces across the country.

A commander of an armed faction linked to Iran, told Arab News: “The message carried by Abdul-Mahdi to the Iranian side has temporarily changed the direction of the battle.” He said fighters had been ordered to remain calm, show restraint, and not to hit any foreign targets inside Iraq “until further notice.”
The commanders revealed that Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, met with a number of leaders of the Shiite factions in Baghdad two days before the start of the month of Ramadan, and discussions focused on the latest developments in the region and the available options for dealing with US pressure on Iran.
“We will rely on short-range missiles to strike US interests in Iraq if the United States began the war, these are the directives,” another commander said. “The factions have not received any long-range missiles from Iran.”
Kata’ib Hezbollah-Iraq, one of the most anti-US Shiite armed groups, which carried out deadly attacks on American troops in Iraq in 2007-2011, and Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba (HHN), an offshoot of Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH), would “spearhead” any attacks launched by Iran on US interests in Iraq and Syria in the event of war, commanders said.
Rockets were handed to both groups, but AAH and other paramilitaries linked to Iran would only be used as backup during any confrontation, the commanders added.


Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

Updated 16 June 2019
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Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

  • Russian-backed regime forces try to retake villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters
  • The clashes also left 26 pro-regime forces dead in the north of Hama province

 

BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.