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June 20, 2019 3:24 pm

Think Tank: Iran-Backed Militias Challenging Iraqi PM’s Credibility

avatar by David Gerstman

Iraqi soldiers sit on a tank at the entry of Zubair oilfield after a rocket struck the site of residential and operations headquarters of several oil companies, at Burjesia area in Basra, Iraq, June 19, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Essam Al-Sudani.

An expert on Iraqi security issues wrote on Wednesday that the latest rocket attacks by Iranian-backed militias are challenging the credibility of Iraq’s prime minister.

A rocket fired by an unidentified militia earlier this week struck near facilities housing foreign engineers, including Americans, employed at Iraq’s oil fields.

“It was the eighth rocket attack on US-linked facilities in Iraq this year, directly following strikes on coalition training facilities in Taji and Mosul on June 17-18,” Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, observed.

Knights noted further that the Mosul and Basra attacks followed a warning on June 18 by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi that militias must stop operating without the “permission, agreement, and control” of his government.

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Abdul-Mahdi issued his order following the attack on the Taji facility, and yet “within twenty-four hours of this pronouncement, new rockets fell in Mosul and Basra,” Knights noted.

The rocket attacks by the militias came at a time that the US was advising Iraq’s Nineveh Operations Command on its efforts to remove non-local militias from Nineveh Plains and Mosul. Though Abdul-Mahdi ordered the militias to leave the area last August and, again, this past May, they have refused to depart.

The militias’ actions are threatening potential deals involving Exxon-Mobil and China to help develop Iraq’s oil resources.

Knights recommended that the US quietly welcome Abdul-Mahdi’s June 18 statement. The US should also realize that in a country awash in weapons it may be difficult for the central government to prevent attacks like these.

“The United States should not let such incidents undermine the bilateral relationship or trigger further diplomatic drawdowns, as long as the Iraqi government can demonstrate that it is taking concrete steps to assert its sovereignty and strengthen control over militias,” Knights wrote.

Abdul-Mahdi must “mobilize the state’s security services” and enlist political support from the likes of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the Badr Organization commander Hadi al-Ameri to gain control of the militias, Knights added.

If Abdul-Mahdi was successful in doing so, Knights said, the US should credit this “small step” as being “a clear indication of good faith and future intentions.”

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