Iraqi militias and the United States make a splash after the elections
Many Shia armed factions in Iraq have not threatened the United States lately, especially since they did so well in the May 12 elections, securing the second-most seats in parliament. The change indicates a possible rapprochement between the two parties, although not declared.
Some Iran-backed, mostly Shia, Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) militias in Iraq appear to be trying to end hostility towards Washington. Some indication of this was seen in the recent International Quds Day protests, which were staged by armed Shiite factions close to Iran in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The rallies were held on June 8, marking the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, to show support for the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation. Quds Day protests are an annual tradition that began in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the former leader of the Islamic Revolution.
It is customary for protesters every year on Quds Day – and on other occasions – to trample and burn the Israeli and American flags. This year, however, no American flags were destroyed or burned, and the protests did not include any slogans or threats against the United States.
On June 4, the Fatah Alliance invited several foreign ambassadors for iftar, the nighttime fast-breaking meal during Ramadan. Photos taken inside the alliance’s headquarters showed a meeting between alliance leader Hadi al-Amiri and US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman. Other ambassadors were also present.
It seems that Amiri and some other PMU leaders are seriously considering a rapprochement with the United States. This, however, earned Amiri some criticism. Aws al-Khafaji, the leader of the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigades, made scathing comments against Amiri, saying: “ [against the US Embassy move to] Jerusalem does not go hand in hand with a meeting with the American ambassador.
Karim al-Nouri, close to Amiri, hinted that the influential Badr organization of the PMU did not rule out any rapprochement or dialogue with the United States.
“There is no conflict between the PMU or a foreign state. The Jerusalem [Quds] The day is a public celebration, where people are free to express themselves as they wish,” Nouri told Al-Monitor. “Not destroying the American flag does not suggest good relations. Burning flags during demonstrations does not mean that [Iraq] is breaking with [the United States]. We only have reservations about Israel.
On the same day, Silliman visited Amiri, he also met with the leader of the Rule of Law Coalition, Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, who has more than once attacked the United States. Maliki is a leader of the PMU and claims to be its founder.
Silliman’s willingness to meet with two PMU “leaders” in a single day is further evidence that the United States is considering some PMU leaders as possible partners.
The United States does not deal with the PMU as a whole, but rather with each faction separately. The United States is closest to Amiri, who in addition to leading the Fatah Alliance also leads the Badr Organization. “Amiri has been in contact with the United States through ongoing meetings in Baghdad,” said Rahman Aljebouri, senior fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
“The United States and factions seeking closer ties will benefit from such a step. Washington, however, considers factions that have joined the political process and have a long political history to be closest to it,” Aljebouri told Al-Monitor.
“Relations between the Badr Organization and the Americans evolved through the Departments of Transportation and the Interior, which were [part of] Amiri’s party,” he added.
Aljebouri’s suggestion that the US treat PMU factions separately is supported by the US Congress position on the League of the Righteous (Asaib Ahl al-Haq). Although Asaib Ahl al-Haq is part of the PMU, the United States has spoken of placing Asaib Ahl al-Haq on its terrorism list.
The Fatah Alliance issued a calm, non-provocative statement on June 2 calling on Washington to “reconsider the political map that will give it an appropriate opportunity to establish balanced relations with Iraq.”
Yehya al-Kubaisi, an adviser to the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor: “The United States cannot deal with the PMU as a single unit. They [Americans] have always distinguished between what they call the good and the bad militias. The Badr Organization is in the correct category, while the League of the Righteous and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba are classified in the wrong category. As for Iran, it believes that dealing with the former group of factions best serves its interests.
He added: “The meeting between the US Ambassador and Amiri came just as the US said it would classify the League of the Righteous and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba as terrorist organizations. . This means that Iran and the United States send messages to each other, using the PMU as a tool to do so.
As things stand, the rapprochement between some PMU leaders and the United States should benefit both parties. The United States must neutralize Iran’s role in these factions. The PMU, meanwhile, seeks to get rid of elements that could qualify it as a terrorist group or for having committed human rights violations.