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“Fake facts!” exclaimed a senior Iraqi official in exasperation as he pointed to photographs online allegedly showing the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Kirkuk, orchestrating the Iraqi government retaking of the city last month. He said that in reality the picture, tweeted by a Kurdish leader as evidence of Iranian hegemony, dates from 2014.

The greatest threat to the growing stability of Iraq is the differences between the US and Iran being fought out politically – and even militarily – in Iraq. The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in an interview with the Independent earlier this week that his greatest concern is a US-Iran crisis. He added that “it is not my job to solve their differences, but it is my job to prevent their confrontation inside Iraq.” He hoped that mutual denunciations by Washington and Tehran would turn out to be rhetorical.

Given US hostility to Iran, the Baghdad government is alarmed by what it sees as an attempt to portray it as an Iranian proxy manipulated by General Soleimani and reliant on the Shia paramilitary Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs). “Today’s offensive by Iraq, PMU Shia militia commanded by Iranian IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] on Kirkuk have sadly started a new war in Iraq & Kurdistan,” reads a tweet from Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish leader and former Iraqi foreign minister last month.

The senior Iraqi official said that Gen Soleimani never meets the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi or anybody else of real importance in Baghdad and has also failed to get an audience with the Shia supreme religious authority, Ali Sistani, in the holy city of Najaf. He said: “In fact, Iranian influence over the Hashd has been going down over the last two years because they are no longer paying most of the groups, aside from Ketaeb Hezbollah.”

The propaganda war is intense and unscrupulous with Kurdish leaders in Irbil and much of the Arab media claiming that Iran pulls the strings in Baghdad, though the US is the government’s main military ally. The PMUs are portrayed as sectarian death squads which are leading the offensive into Iraqi Kurdistan. One video posted online purports to show the Kurds blowing up a bridge over the Lesser Zaab river at Altun Kupri, where Kurdish and Iraqi forces confront each other, to block the PMUs advancing into the Kurdish heartlands. In reality, the bridge is still standing and the much-watched video is of an entirely different bridge in Topeka, Kansas being destroyed in a controlled explosion to make way for new construction.

The US has always been paranoid about Iranian influence in Iraq and tends to conflate Iraqi Shia fighting for their community and variant of Islam with proxies under the control of Iran. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a visit to Baghdad last month said the Hashd should “go home”, apparently believing that its members were IRGC fighters from Iran. Mr Abadi speaks out vigorously in defence of the Hashd, but says he is determined that they must be under strict government control.

The power of the Hashd has become more limited today than when they were created as a mass movement three years ago by a fatwa from Grand Ayatollah Sistani – though several paramilitary organisations like the Badr Organisation, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Ketaeb Hezbollah have a much longer history. This was in June 2014 when the Iraqi army had lost Mosul to Isis and looked as if it would be unable to defend Baghdad.

The Hashd was central in defending the capital and in early counter-offensives against Isis, but has increasingly had a secondary role in military operations which are now led by the highly trained and experienced Counter-Terrorism Force. In the nine-month siege of Mosul, the Hashd occupied territory outside the city, but the assault was led by the CTF, Federal Police and Emergency Response Division. There were no Hashd units in Kirkuk city earlier this week, though they do have joint checkpoints with the army along the road back to Baghdad.

The Hashd, who are part of the Iraqi security forces and paid for by the state, are becoming less independent and less influenced by Iran because the Iraqi government is much more powerful than it used to be. But there is no doubt that Sunni and Kurds are frightened of them and they have a nasty reputation for sectarianism and criminality. For all their claims to be obedient to the state, there is an Iraqi saying that there are four givers of the law in Iraq: the government, the religious authorities, the tribes – and the Hashd.

Qais al-Khazali, 43, the leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq Shia paramilitary group, denies that it is under the control of Iran or is sectarian. Dressed in white turban and black robes, he answers questions swiftly and articulately, showing a moderation that feels out of keeping with his violent past. Once a lieutenant of the nationalist populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, from whom he split in 2004, he set up Asaib Ahl al-Haq which rapidly gained a reputation for ferocity and close links to Iran. Arrested by the British in 2007, he was released in exchange for a British hostage in 2010. Speaking in his office in Najaf in an interview with The Independent, he was keen to emphasise that his group were neither sectarian nor pawns of Iran. “It is one of their lies,” he says in response to the charge of sectarian killings. “There has been no sectarian cleansing. I am adamant – we did not bring in any Shia families to a Sunni area.”


He says that American forces should leave Iraq because they are no longer needed. “They don’t want to leave, but we can force them to,” he says. “We have experience in resistance. If there is a mandate from the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi people, then we will stand up to them.” This would be the sort of nightmare envisaged by Mr Abadi, in which Iraqi Hashd – which the US believes are under Iranian direction – start killing American soldiers.

As for the role of Iran and Soleimani in the taking of Kirkuk, Mr Khazali says that they were supportive to Mr Abadi and Iraqi government forces. “The reason the Prime Minister gets the credit is because he galvanised a great force to show he was serious.” He says that what Soleimani did was to pass on to the Kurds that Mr Abadi really meant business and they would not be able to resist.

As for the future of the Hashd, he says that “in future it should be completely amalgamated with the Iraqi military and should not be involved in politics.” Much here will depend on whether or not there is a prolonged confrontation with the Kurds in northern Iraq, in which case Baghdad will continue to need large military forces, including the Hashd. As of Thursday, Baghdad is threatening to end a truce and take military action after the failure of talks about the central government taking control of the borders of Kurdistan.

Speaking of more general developments in Iraq, Mr Khazali made an interesting point. He said that after the US invasion of 2003, it was the Shia and the Kurdish communities, long opposed to and oppressed by Saddam Hussein, who held power. But this Kurdish-Shia bloc was dissolved when the Kurds voted for independence in the referendum on 25 September and cannot be rebuilt. He says it might be time for the Shia community to look to the Sunni rather than the Kurds as their new partners in running Iraq. Asked if he thought the era of wars in Iraq was over, Mr Khazali, replied: “Iraq is similar to Alice in Wonderland – you cannot predict what is going to happen next.”

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, Iran, Iraq, Kurds 
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  1. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    You, the MI6 propagandist should stop your propaganda for the traitor Kurds and ‘Kurdish project’, like “Israel project” and start attacking your government project, BALFOUR DECLARATION, which has killed millions of people so far and still in the process for the interest of the zionists that your government serves. The ziofascists have NO relations with the Palestinian land and the region and must go to Jewish state in New York where had been existed for more than two centuries. Britain must get lost from the region. Palestine is the land of Palestinians NOT the zionists, and Jewish is a religion NOT a race. Britain Government must be tried as mass murder and thief, so US, at the ICC, a brothel house.

    • Replies: @DFH
  2. Issac says:

    “Oh if only the Americans had elected Hillary, all these wars would be over by now!”

    What a fatuous absurdity of an article.

  3. DFH says:

    Stop making sensible anti-semites look bad

  4. Aarky says:

    An excellent article. Israel is always behind the curtain, pulling the levers that get the US to invade or interfere. The constant references from Trump about the Iranian terrorists are direct from the AIPAC Israeli propaganda. That the US blundered and bungled into Syria without an invite was a classic example .

  5. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The ziofascists cannot bring people into silence any longer since their act of treason have been exposed all over the world and the Zionist jews’ role in bringing America into WWI, and wars waged by the Newcons and George Bush regime since 9/11 have been identified.
    The ziofascists are the biggest ANITSEMETE of all who try to hide their own crimes against humanity by bringing HOAX charges against those who express the truth.

    What we know Now is that: the influential Zionists such as Brandies , are responsible for the entry of President Wilson, a Naïve president, into WWI, because the Zionists wanted to steal Palestine and failed to bribe Abudhamid, the Ottoman Sultan, TO HONOR THEIR DEMAND.
    On the other hand, criminal British empire could not continue the war without American entry. Thus, the influential Zionist jews deceived Wilson and for this treason British gave the criminal Zionists the land of Palestinians who were living in their land for over 22 centuries continually on their balck.

    The round II of the Zionist plot started in 2001 by 9/11 a FALSE FLAG OPERATION in order to wage wars, SEVEN COUNTRIES IN FIVE YEARS, to destroy the regional states, ODED YINON PLOT, to grab more lands and resources, and erect ‘kurdistan’ with the help of traitor kurds using terrorism, using CIA trained ISIS, to steal lands in Iraq and Syria. To push this plot, the USG and embedded Journalists of secret intelligence services of the west spread the Zionist propaganda through their writin.

    The following text by William Pierce is an excerpt from a longer text, BACKGROUND TO TREASON: A Brief History of U.S. Policy in the Middle East, Part 1: From the Exodus to the Balfour Declaration.”

    [Even before the Zionist Congress met, Herzl had been attempting to persuade the Turks to give the Jews free rein in Palestine. First he tried blackmail, hinting that he and his fellow Jews, by using their influence, could either silence or intensify the agitation against Turkey then being carried on in various European capitals by Armenian expatriates, who had their own grievances. When the blackmail didn’t work, Herzl’s thoughts turned to war. He told his fellow Zionists at Basle that they might be able to achieve control of Palestine through a European war, if they played their cards right: “It may be that Turkey will refuse or will be unable to understand us. This will not discourage us. We will seek other means to accomplish our end. The Orient question is now a question of the day. Sooner or later it will bring about a conflict among the nations. The great European war must come. With my watch in hand do I await this terrible moment. After the great European war is ended the peace conference will assemble. We must be ready for that time.” ]

    [The explanation for the reluctance of modern historians to write about the Zionist role in the First World War is this: In the immediate postwar years, the Zionist responsibility for America’s entry into the war was a valid topic for historical investigation and discussion, with even the Zionists freely admitting their actions. After all, America and Britain had won the war, and Germany was down and out. How could the truth hurt anyone? Then in 1933 Germany, under Adolf Hitler, began getting back on its feet. Suddenly any discussion of the truth about the Zionist role in the last war became “anti-Semitic.”]

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