ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – America’s top envoy in Iraq on Wednesday issued a warning to those Iraqi militias that receive support from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC.) The warning follows two days after the US designated the IRGC, including its Quds Force (IRGC-QF), as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO.)
US DESIGNATION OF IRGC AS A TERROR GROUP
“This designation makes it clearer and clearer that people can have a relationship with the problematic parts of the Iranian government, like the IRGC, or they can have a relationship with the United States and our financial system, but they cannot do both at the same time,” Joey Hood, chargé d'affaires at the US embassy in Baghdad, told reporters after attending a local event in the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Region, Erbil.
“It is natural for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people,” he continued, “to have a normal relationship with the Iranian government and the Iranian people.”
“But it is not normal for a Revolutionary Guard to be coming into another country and doing things without coordination with that government and trying to destabilize it, and weaken the sovereignty of that government,” Hood affirmed.
The US envoy then advised “those groups,” alluding to the militias, “to work for the interests of their country and put Iraq first and not the interests of another country, whether it's Iran or anyone else.”
“If they put the interests of the Revolutionary Guard before the interests of Iraq, they could be caught by these designations,” Hood warned.
US PRESENCE IN IRAQ
Since Iraq’s December 2017 declaration of victory over the Islamic State, some Shia politicians and militia leaders have repeatedly called for the withdrawal of US forces, and they have announced their intent to raise the issue in the Iraqi parliament.
As Hood noted, however, “We are here at the invitation of the Iraqi government. And if the Iraqi government requests us to leave we will leave. We are partners; we're not occupiers.”
But he also warned of the likely consequences. “If we go, then the coalition partners would go, and investor confidence would plummet,” Hood stated. “We don't want to see those things happen. And I don't think most Iraqi politicians want to see that happen either.”
Although militarily defeated in Iraq, the Islamic State continues to wage an insurgency in several provinces across the country through suicide bombings, roadside explosions, ambushes, and kidnapping.
ERBIL AND BAGHDAD RELATIONS
The US envoy expressed Washington’s appreciation and support for the improvement in relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government of Iraq that has taken place under Baghdad’s newly-elected leadership.
“There has been more progress on that file under the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih and Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi in the past few months than there has been in the past 10 years,” Hood said, as he responded to a question from Kurdistan 24.
“It's really something that we commend, and we support in every way,” he affirmed.
The improved relations between Erbil and Baghdad are reflected in greater coordination between the Peshmerga and Iraqi Security Forces. Hood explained that the discussions between the two are “going very well.”
“This is something that we support,” he affirmed. “We offer all of their support, whether it be in training or providing equipment or weapons, so that both sides can focus on the real threat,” in Iraq, namely, the resurgence of the Islamic State.
Ties between Erbil and Baghdad reached their nadir in October 2017, when Iraqi forces attacked Kirkuk and other disputed areas in a military operation engineered by Qasim Soleimani, head of the IRGC-QF—which the US designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization on Monday.
Speaking to Fox News later that day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked, if, from a “US policy perspective,” Soleimani had the same standing as the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Yeah,” Pompeo replied. “He is a terrorist.”
Editing by Laurie Mylroie
(Additional reporting by Blessa Shaweys)