WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, widely viewed as America’s man in Iraq, announced on Saturday that he would run on the same list as leaders of the Iranian-backed militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF.)
The surprise arrangement was mediated by Gen. Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the Trump administration designated a terrorist organization in October.
Initially, the Iraqi press reported that differences over who would head a united list had prevented an alliance between Abadi, who has his “Victory for Iraq” list and Hadi al-Amiri, head of the PMF and his own “Conquest” list.
However, Soleimani’s intervention resolved their differences, or so it would seem.
Qais al-Khazali is the most controversial figure on the joint list.
Khazali heads a group known as the League of the Righteous. During Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Khazali’s group, backed by Iran, was involved in killing Americans, and Khazali spent three years in US detention.
A bill pending in the US House of Representatives would designate Khazali and his group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and impose sanctions on them.
Now, it appears, however, that Khazali stands a very good chance of gaining a position in Iraq’s next government!
Entifadh Qanbar, an Iraqi-American and President of the Future Foundation in Washington, told Kurdistan 24 that he had received many calls from Iraq after the announcement of the new coalition.
“A lot of people are in shock,” Qanbar said. “They are speechless, as if they were hit by a train, particularly those who were promoting Abadi as the moderate guy who was going to lead Iraq.”
They are also asking, “Where is the US? Is it possible that the US will sit on its hands and do nothing,” Qanbar continued.
“Abadi is their guy. How come they let him go with Khazali?,” Iraqis are asking.
“I think the US signed a blank check to Abadi, so he thinks that he can do whatever he wants,” Qanbar suggested.
“The argument of the State Department that Abadi is their ally, that he is the one who can stop Iran’s expansion in Iraq, is now gone,” he affirmed. “I don’t think anyone can say that anymore.”
An informed Kurdish source in Erbil advised Kurdistan 24 that Abadi’s basic problem was that he needed a partnership with the PMF to win the elections.
“The only asset that Abadi has is the PMF,” this source said. “Abadi doesn’t have much support” on his own, and “he won’t get support from the powerful Kurdish parties.”
The trickiest point in forming the new coalition was getting Ameri to accept the number two position.
“Soleimani played a strong role in bringing all the Shia together,” a Kurdish MP in Iraq’s parliament told Kurdistan 24, referring to the new alliance as a “Middle Eastern-style marriage,”—i.e., brokered by others.
“The US is wrong in thinking that Abadi is their man,” the MP added. “The American strategy in Iraq has failed.”
That is also the view of Michael Pregent, an Iraq expert at the Hudson Institute, who served as an adviser to Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno during OIF.
“Abadi was never our guy in Baghdad,’” Pregent told Kurdistan 24. “Every gain the IRGC has made in Iraq has been under Abadi’s tenure” and now “the IRGC, and its militias, operate with impunity.”
“Better we know now that Baghdad is lost to Iran,” Pregent added, “and move our Train and Equip program to Erbil, where we can build a Sunni Arab and Kurdish force to defeat ISIS, push back the IRGC, and regain leverage with Baghdad.”
Paul Davis, a retired Army intelligence officer, who served as an analyst of Kurdish affairs at the Pentagon, suggested that “Iranians are better than the US at manipulating internal politics in Iraq.”
“They have the knowledge of the territory,” Davis told Kurdistan 24. “They have the knowledge of the culture and the ability to manipulate their own militias.”
Davis predicted, “Iran is going to win in Iraq,” and he concluded, “That’s why we have to separate Iraq from Kurdistan.”
Editing by Nadia Riva