Iraq aims to ease US-Iran tensions

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Baghdad will send teams to Tehran and Washington to calm tensions. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 May 2019
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Iraq aims to ease US-Iran tensions

  • Iraqi delegations to visit both countries
  • “US and Iranian officials have assured us that they do not want to go to war,” says PM

BAGHDAD: Iraq will send delegations to Tehran and Washington over the next few days in an attempt to ease tensions in the region, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday.

“Iraq has conducted high-level contacts (between the US and Iran), and its vision is very close to the European vision to resolve the crisis in the region,” Abdul Mahdi said.

“US and Iranian officials have assured us that they do not want to go to war. So we will send delegations to Washington and Tehran.”

Tensions started to rise between the two countries after the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, in May 2018.

Since then, the US has imposed economic sanctions on Iran. US President Donald Trump warned on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked American interests in the Middle East.

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Iraq has been a battleground for the US and Iran since 2003. Both countries enjoy significant influence in the region.

Iraqi leaders believe that their country could become the first confrontation zone if war breaks out between the two nations.

“Iraq is in the stage of transferring messages between Washington and Tehran as we try to defuse the crisis between the two sides,” Abdul Mahdi said.

“It is our responsibility to defend Iraq and its people, and secure them from the threat of war.”

During a visit to Baghdad earlier this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Abdul Mahdi that targeting any US interests in Iraq will be dealt with militarily.

A Katyusha rocket was fired on Sunday into Baghdad’s Green Zone, which houses government offices and embassies, including the US Embassy.

The rocket fire came days after the US evacuated staff from Iraq, citing threats from Iran. It was not clear who was behind the attack, which caused no casualties.

The attack “embarrassed” the Iraqi government, which has pledged to secure diplomatic missions and protect US interests, senior Iraqi officials told Arab News.

The Iraqi president, prime minister and speaker of Parliament, as well as heads of political blocs and commanders of armed factions linked to Iran, have held meetings over the past few days.

“We’re working together to invest our relations with the two parties (the US and Iran) in order to ease the tension and find peaceful solutions,” Ahmad Al-Assadi, head of an Iraqi parliamentary bloc, told Arab News.

“The outbreak of war between America and Iran will cause great damage to the entire region. Iraq will be the biggest loser because it’s in the heart of the storm.”

During the meetings, political leaders and representatives of armed factions linked to Iran agreed on a 12-point document that aims “to keep Iraq away from the ongoing struggle between the US and Iran by all possible means.” Al-Assadi said the Iraqi Parliament will vote on the approved document.

Dozens of paramilitary troops associated with Iran operate in Iraq, and present the biggest challenge for the Iraqi government and political leaders.

“We agreed that no armed faction is allowed to ignite the war inside Iraq for any reason, and whoever violates this deal will be considered our enemy,” one of the leaders linked to Iran, who participated in the meetings, told Arab News.

“We don’t want to be blamed for this war, but the situation may change if the US insists on starting this war inside Iraq.”


Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

  • “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations”

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, on Monday threatened to withdraw his support for the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi if the prime minister fails to finalize the formation of his Cabinet within 10 days.
Al-Sadr is one of the most influential clerics in the country, with millions of followers, a large armed faction and a parliamentary bloc. He is the official sponsor of the Reform Alliance, the second-largest parliamentary coalition, which is overseeing the formation of the government following the national parliamentary elections in May last year. The removal of his support for Abdul Mahdi’s government might take the form of an announcement that he no longer has confidence in the Parliament, or the organization of mass demonstrations.
Abdul Mahdi, who became prime minister in October, formed his government with the support of Reform and the pro-Iranian Construction coalition. The latter is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions. However, disputes between the two alliances over some of the candidates erupted at the last minute, as a result of which four ministries remain vacant: Interior, defense, education and justice.

Monday’s statement, which was signed by Al-Sadr and described as his “last call,” was addressed to his Saeiroon parliamentary bloc, the leaders of all political blocs, and Abdul Mahdi. It was issued in response to criticism on social on Monday because of the vote by members of the parliamentary blocs, including Al-Sadr’s MPs, the day before to grant all the privileges enjoyed by the former MPs to the deputies who ruled out by the Federal Supreme Court due to the error of counting their votes.
“All the political blocs must authorize the prime minister to complete his ministerial Cabinet within 10 days…and he (Abdul Mahdi) must choose (the ministers) according to the standards of integrity, efficiency and specialization, or I will not support him,” Al-Sadr’s statement read.

His position is the latest in a series of events that have put pressure on Abdul Mahdi in recent weeks. These include efforts by some political blocs, including Saeiroon, to dismiss a number of ministers under the pretext of failure to improve services and inability to combat the financial and administrative corruption that is rampant in their departments.
While most political leaders believe that reaching a political agreement on candidates to fill the vacant ministries within 10 days “will be very difficult” and predict “this may be the end of the government of Abdul Mahdi,” some believe that Al-Sadr’s goal is to pile more pressure on Abdul Mahdi as a way to obtain certain concessions.

“Saeiroon is still negotiating with the prime minister and the other political partners to obtain some key government posts that its rivals are looking to get, and Abdul Mahdi refused to give them to the Saeiroon candidates, so this could be a part of this,” said a prominent Shiite negotiator who asked not to be named. “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations."