Diplomats in Iraq doubtful that attacks on US targets will stop

Political forces must support government's effort to rein in armed militias, diplomat says

FILE - In this Dec 31, 2019  file photo, pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters damage property inside the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq. The Trump administration has signaled it could close its diplomatic mission in Baghdad if measures are not taken to control rogue armed elements responsible for a recent spate of attacks against U.S. and other interests in the country, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)
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Diplomats in Iraq are sceptical about Iran-backed armed groups delivering on their offer to stop attacks on US troops and personnel stationed in the country.

American forces, diplomatic missions and Iraqi-driven convoys belonging to the US-led coalition fighting ISIS have faced attacks for months, although only a few of them have been lethal.

On Sunday, a group of militias calling itself the Iraqi Resistance Co-ordination Commission said it would suspend attacks in return for a clear timeline for the withdrawal of US forces from the country.

But a western diplomat told The National on Monday that there are some doubts as to whether the attacks would stop.

“Firstly there was an attack yesterday against a US convoy, and it seems that there is a lack of discipline and agreement among all of the illegal armed groups,” the diplomat said.

Mohammed Mohi, the spokesman for the Kataib Hezbollah militia who announced the offer, did not specify a deadline for the government to expel foreign forces but said "if America insists on staying and doesn’t respect the parliament’s decision then the factions will use all the weapons at their disposal".

Kataib Hezbollah is part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a grouping of militias, some backed by Iran, that were mobilised to support government forces against ISIS. The PMF was recognised as part of the state security apparatus after the defeat of ISIS in Iraq.

The repeated attacks reportedly prompted Washington to consider shutting its embassy in Iraq, triggering much concern in Baghdad that Iran's influence over the country would increase.

For years, Iraq has been caught in a tug-of-war between its two main allies, Iran and the US – arch rivals whose relations have crumbled since Washington pulled out of a nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran in 2018.

“We now need all political forces to get behind the government’s efforts to provide security and to rein in these illegal armed groups,” the diplomat said.

Since taking office in May, Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi has directed his efforts into tightening security around the country in an attempt to control the Iran-backed militias.

But the militias have stepped up their campaign of undermining the state's sovereignty in recent months, resisting Mr Al Kadhimi's attempts to put them under state control.

“We welcome the additional security measures taken so far by the Iraqi government and hope to see further measures in the coming days and weeks,” the diplomat said.

“We fully support the PM’s efforts to improve security in Baghdad, not just for diplomats but for all Iraqis,” he said.

The Iraqi government has faced domestic pressure to remove foreign troops from the country since January, when a US drone strike in Baghdad killed Iranian general Qassem Suleimani and the PMF commander Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis.

Parliament subsequently passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Iraq, giving the government one year to comply. This was followed by a slow withdrawal of US and other coalition troops.