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A growing challenge for Iraq. Shiite militias equated to Iran

BA HD DAD (AP) – It was a sharp message. A convoy of masked Shiite militias, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, drove through the center of Baghdad, condemning the US presence in Iraq and threatening to cut off the prime minister’s ear.

The horrific demonstration underscored the growing threat posed to Iraq by militias loyal to Tehran. It comes as Baghdad seeks to strengthen ties with its Arab neighbors, preparing for snap elections in October amid a worsening economic crisis and a global epidemic.

Last week’s march was an attempt to undermine the credibility of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Qadimi. Iranian militants crossed the main highway, passing by ministries, while Iraqi security forces watched. Ahead of a new round of talks between the US government and Iraq, it has issued a stern warning that militant groups will not be restrained.

The fourth round of so-called Iraq-US strategic talks is scheduled to take place next week at the request of the Iraqi government, in part in response to pressure from Shi’ite factions’s pro-Iran militias lobbying for the remaining US troops to leave Iraq.

The talks, which began in June under the Trump administration, were the first under President Biden. The agenda includes a number of issues, including the presence of US troops in the country and the issue of Iraqi militants operating outside the state. The talks are aimed at shaping the future of US-Iraq relations, a senior US official said recently.

It is a rope for al-Qadimi, who says his administration’s goal is to bring militant groups under state control, but he seems increasingly helpless in curbing them. U.S. officials have said Washington will use the meetings to clarify that U.S. forces remain in Iraq for the sole purpose of ensuring that the Islamic State group “can not reorganize itself,” which means the United States is seeking to. to keep 2,500 US troops in Iraq

Political analyst Ihsan Alshamari said the militant-style military parade was trying to weaken al-Qadimi’s government և project.

“It also aims to send a message to Washington. “We are the decision-makers, not the government,” he added.

The militants who took part in the parade were mainly from a shadowy Shiite group known as Rabaallah. About a dozen people have been killed in a Washington-led drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleiman, the head of the Iraqi Armed Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in Baghdad in 2020. In January. ,

Soleimani al-Muhandis was instrumental in overseeing the leadership of pro-Iranian groups in Iraq, and their deaths in a US airstrike have angered Iraqi lawmakers, prompting them to pass a non-binding resolution to overthrow the US-led coalition. forces from the country.

Since then, armed militias have also become increasingly disobedient and diverse. In Washington որոշ Some observers in Iraq claim that the militants have split into new, previously unknown groups, allowing them to demand attacks under different names to disguise their involvement.

“These are tools used for negotiation purposes to put pressure on Washington when it comes to (Iran) ‘s nuclear program,” Alshamari said, referring to the 2015 Biden-era World War II summit in Tehran. In 2018.

Rabaallah is believed to be the front of one of the most powerful factions in Iran, which the United States accuses of shelling US military bases in Baghdad and US military bases.

Last October, the group attacked the offices of a political party in the Kurdish semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq, set fire to the office of the Kurdish party in Baghdad, and the media headquarters. He is also accused of attacking an Asian spa in a liquor store in the Iraqi capital.

Rabaallah went so far as to try to dictate the exchange rate of the Iraqi dinar against the dollar, demanded approval of the budget, and condemned the “occupation” of the United States by Iraq, according to him. It featured al-Qadhimi posters with the shoe printed on the front and a pair of scissors next to the face with the words “It’s time to cut the writing.”

Iraq, located on the line between Shiite-dominated Iran and the predominantly Sunni Arab world, has long been a haven for regional settlements. It was also involved in the US-Iran war. And although relations with the United States have been hit hard since the airstrike that killed Soleimani, ties have improved since al-Qadhimi, who has been confirmed by both Iran and the United States, became prime minister.

Political analyst Tamer Badawi says Shiite militias intend to send a double message to al-Khadimi’s administration. The first is a warning against any attempt to curb the influence of the international community under the banner of fighting corruption. The other is to pressure the government to push the US to reduce the number of coalition forces in Iraq.

For his part, al-Qadhimi sought to curb militant money-making border operations, including smuggling and bribery, to show his American interlocutors that he was able to maintain control of his internal adversaries.

Badawi said the pressure from militant groups was likely to increase ahead of strategic talks with the United States on April 7.

A few days after Rabaallah’s parade, Iraqi security forces took to the streets and main squares of the capital Baghdad, which a senior Iraqi security official described as a “reassuring message.”

But for Baghdad shopkeeper Akil al-Ruba, who watched the February parade from the streets, the police demonstration was a gruesome sight for a powerless government.

“I saw that this country is insecure, unworthy of living in peace,” he said.

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Karam reports from Beirut.

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