According to a report from The Associated Press, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, Esmail Ghaani, visited Tehran’s allies in Iraq last month and delivered a message urging calm and asking militia leaders to refrain from attacking US forces.
Iraqi sources told AP that one of the leaders of the six Iraqi factions Ghaani met with spoke out against the warning. Iraqi militia groups are still angry that the US assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis has still not been avenged.
Ghaani replaced Soleimani as the commander of the Quds Force after he was killed in Baghdad in January 2020. Muhandis was the leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a group of mostly Shia militias that formed in 2014 to fight ISIS.
Anonymous Iraqi Shia political sources told AP that Iran’s influence on these militias has waned since the US killed Soleimani and Muhandis. “Iran isn’t the way it used to be, with 100% control over the militia commanders,” said one Shia political leader.
“What is taking place now is when Ghaani asks for calm, the brigade leaders agree with him. But as soon as he leaves the meeting, they disregard his recommendations,” said another Shia source.
The Biden administration portrayed its recent airstrikes against Iraqi militias in Iraq and Syria as a “message to Iran.” But the AP report demonstrates that the resistance to Washington’s presence in Iraq is more homegrown than the US claims.
Since Biden bombed militia targets in Iraq and Syria in June, attacks on bases housing US troops in both countries have stepped up. This week in Iraq, rocket attacks on US facilities have been a daily occurrence.
After Soleimani and Muhandis were killed, Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to expel US troops. Since Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi came into office in May 2020, he has been trying to negotiate with the US to work out a timeline on when troops will leave.
The US has agreed to eventually withdraw from Iraq, but no timeline has been set, and those who oppose the US occupation are growing impatient. Khadhimi had previously gotten Iraq’s militias to agree to not fire on US bases while the withdrawal plans were being worked out. But with no withdrawal timeline and increased US airstrikes against the militias, the violence will continue to escalate.