US accuses ‘Iranian-backed elements’ of attack on Baghdad KDP office
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US State Department charged in a statement on Saturday that Iran-backed factions within Iraq’s paramilitary forces were behind an attack earlier that day against the main Baghdad office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
The US “strongly condemns” the attack on the KDP office “by Iran-backed elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF),” said Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus in a written statement.
On Saturday morning, hundreds of marchers carrying flags of the PMF—an umbrella organization of mostly Iran-aligned Shia militias—stormed the office in the Karrada neighborhood of the Iraqi capital, setting fire to the building along with the Kurdistan Region’s flag while large numbers of security forces looked on.
The PMF, known in Arabic as Hashd al-Shabi, is an umbrella term for paramilitary forces brought into the national security apparatus following the so-called Islamic State’s successful offensive on Mosul.
Dominant groups within PMF are known to have strong ties with Tehran, which supports them with extensive logistics and financial support. The US and its allies accuse these forces to be behind frequent rocket attacks against US facilities including the embassy in Baghdad and military bases housing US troops.
Read More: US warns Iraq on Iranian-backed militias
“The destabilizing activities of Iran-backed militias operating outside of Government of Iraq control are inflaming ethnic and sectarian tensions and undermining democracy,” continued Ortagus.
The attack on the KDP office in Baghdad followed critical remarks made in an interview by KDP official and former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who said that “in order to thwart the potential closure of the US Embassy in Baghdad,” the Iraqi government should “clean” the militias from Green Zone, home to multiple foreign diplomatic missions.
Zebari’s remarks drew backlash from PMF supporters as well as members of parliament aligned to the groups and demanded that Zebari offer an apology.
“Political parties should be able to engage in robust debate without threat from militias and thugs,” the State Department statement continued, adding, “The ability to speak freely and critically is a vital component of any democracy.”
The Iraqi government announced on Saturday the arrest of 15 individuals allegedly responsible for the attack but did not specify any of their identities or suspected affiliations.
The US statement concluded, “We strongly urge all parties to behave responsibly during this critical period in which Iraq is already dealing with a pandemic, an economic crisis, and the continued threat of ISIS.”
Editing by John J. Catherine