German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called on Baghdad “to move away from the rule of sectarian militias” in a speech on Wednesday at the Berlin Forum on International Policy.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke similarly on Saturday, when the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Nechirvan Barzani, visited Paris, along with the Deputy Prime Minister, Qubad Talabani.
However, Washington is not prepared to endorse that position.
On Thursday, Kurdistan 24 asked State Department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, whether the US shared that view.
She responded, “The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are administered by or fall under the prime minister.”
He “controls those forces under Iraqi law,” she continued.
“So whether or not other countries like that or don’t like it, it is Iraqi law, and we believe in sovereignty.”
However, as Paul Davis, a former analyst of Kurdish affairs at the Pentagon, explained to Kurdistan 24, “Under the Iraqi constitution, there can be no private militias, other than regional guards, such as the Peshmerga.”
Davis noted that Baghdad had sought to circumvent the constitutional provision by saying that the PMF are under the control of the Iraqi government.
However, it is a “blatant fiction.” The most powerful militias are supported by and under the command and control of Iran, specifically Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the Trump administration has designated a terrorist organization.
As clear evidence that Abadi does not control the most significant PMFs, Davis pointed to the decision of Muqtada al-Sadr to withdraw his militia from Kirkuk.
“If Sadr can order his people out, they are not under the control of the government,” he affirmed.
Sadr is independent of Iran, but the same cannot be said for other PMF elements, such as Kata’ib Hezbollah, which the US long ago designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization, or Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba.
A bill currently in the House of Representatives, “The Iranian Proxies Terrorist Sanctions Act of 2017” (H.R.
4238), seeks to impose sanctions on the latter two militias.
The overall commander of the PMF, Hadi al-Ameri, has a long association with Iran, as does the Deputy Commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was convicted in absentia for his involvement in the 1983 bombings of the US and French embassies in Kuwait.
Asked whether the PMF were not really under Tehran’s control, despite being formally commanded by Baghdad, Nauert replied, “That would be an internal Iraqi matter.”
“The prime minister knows how to best manage his security forces,” she affirmed.
“Under Iraqi law, they fall under the prime minister.”
Davis, however, described Abadi as a “puppet,” with “Iran pulling the strings.”
Entifadh Qanbar, an Iraqi-American activist and President of the Future Foundation in Washington, spoke similarly to Kurdistan 24, characterizing Abadi as the “head of a public relations firm,” subordinate to Tehran.
Abadi is the friendly face of Iranian policy in Baghdad.
The US feels comfortable dealing with him, choosing not to inquire overmuch about his independence and authority.
The same problem exists in Lebanon, where a Sunni, Saad Hariri, is prime minister, but the strength of pro-Iranian factions is such that the government cannot act independently of Tehran.
Tony Badran, an expert on Lebanon and a Research Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, calls the US attitude “poetry”—denial of an unpalatable reality.
Nonetheless, in Lebanon, the US is prepared at least to acknowledge that a problem exists.
On the eve of Friday’s meeting in Paris of the International Support Group for Lebanon, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement that he would “encourage the Lebanese government and other nations to move more aggressively in limiting Hezbollah’s destabilizing activity in the region.”
However, the Trump administration is not prepared to speak in similar terms about the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
“The US needs to get its head out of the sand and look at reality,” Davis said.
“We saw the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
Why can’t we see the reality of the facts on the ground in Iraq?”
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