ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iran-backed Shia militia leaders on Monday distanced themselves from a rocket attack a day earlier that was directed at the Iraqi capital’s fortified Green Zone, landing near the US embassy complex.
The attack, conducted using a Katyusha rocket with no casualties reported, came amid escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, as the former re-imposed and later compounded economic and political sanctions on Iran after it withdrew last year from the landmark nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The US recently announced further military deployments to the Persian Gulf to deter possible attacks by Iranian forces and its proxies across the Middle East. Washington also ordered on Wednesday the departure of nonessential US staff in its mission offices across Iraq and the Kurdistan Region and suspended visa services.
Concerns over potential attacks by Iran-backed entities in Iraq have piled among other diplomatic offices. On Thursday, British paper The Guardian reported, citing two intelligence sources, that famed Iranian general Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds force of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), had earlier met with Iraqi militia leaders and told them to “prepare for a proxy war.”
Striking the heart of the Green Zone, about a kilometer away from the US embassy, the rocket was apparently fired from the eastern part of Baghdad near the capital’s Technological University, where the Iraqi security forces found the launch pad, a knowledgeable source told Kurdistan 24.
Although the identity of the perpetrators is yet unclear, the launch site is close to areas where various Shia militias are active and hold sway. The model of the launcher, as seen in a picture that is believed to have been used by the attackers on Sunday, is one used by Iranian forces, the American Washington Examiner claimed in a report.
Distancing themselves from the attack, senior leaders among the Shia militias linked with Iran voiced their opposition to it and escalations that could potentially lead to a devastating war.
“National, religious, and historical responsibility requires everyone to remove the specter of war from Iraq first of all and the whole region second,” Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organization militia group and the Fatah political alliance, said in a statement.
“If war breaks out, everyone will burn.”
Amiri then accused Israel of being the only country that “pushes” for war, a claim that has also been made by Iranian leaders, among them Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Zarif has said US President Donald Trump was being pushed into war by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and US National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Qais al-Khazali, head of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia – another influential group – echoed Amiri’s statement: “We warn against [actions] intended to find pretexts of war and damage Iraq’s political, economic, and security situation.”
The End of Iraq
A long-time critic of foreign intervention in Iraq’s internal affairs and the leader of a militia group that once fought US troops in Iraq following the fall of the Saddam Hussein-led regime in 2003, firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also stated his opposition to actions that could increase tensions and possibly lead to war between arch-foes Iran and the US.
“I am not for fueling war between Iran and America,” Sadr said in a Twitter statement.
Sadr is an influential Iraqi political and religious figure who headed the Sairoon Alliance in the last Iraqi parliamentary elections which came in first place, winning about one-sixth of the seats in the legislature.
“We need a serious stand by the senior [leaders] of the nation to keep Iraq away from the start of a fierce war,” he added. If the country “does not have a united stand,” then a war “would be the end of Iraq.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany