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Observers: Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite Militias Threaten Iraq’s Sovereignty 

FILE: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi attends a summit meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, August 28, 2021.
FILE: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi attends a summit meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, August 28, 2021.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the November 7 assassination attempt on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, but analysts say suspicion has widely fallen on Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias who were the biggest losers in last month’s parliamentary elections.

Middle East observer Khaled Abou Zahr writing in the Saudi Arab News daily says the voting results show that the Iraqi public reject the militias, while sending a clear message to Tehran: “Deal with our state and do not interfere in our domestic affairs.”

Abou Zahr argues that the only way for Iraq to keep its national sovereignty is to “outlaw the militias immediately and have them surrender their weapons,” saying “Iraq will not survive if the militias are allowed to continue endangering and threatening every voice that calls for sovereignty.”

He points out that 30 Iraqi activists who criticized the Iran-backed militias were assassinated in the past three years and asks: “how many more killings and abductions are necessary before Iraqis stand united against this threat?”

Senior analyst Nicholas Heras with the Newlines Institute in Washington sees the assassination attempt on al-Kadhimi indicating that “Iran doesn’t have complete control over these shadow militias and that should be a concern to U.S. policymakers.” He believes that al-Kadhimi is trying to use a law-and-order approach to rein in the militias.

“Iran has essentially created a hydra of militias inside Iraq. You cut off the head of one, another emerges in its place. That is the challenge that Prime Minister Kadhimi faces right now. He has taken a law enforcement approach to trying to investigate, identify and then root out these militias using the justification that they are illegal armed groups and that is against Iraqi law. The problem is there are multiple actors in Iraq who are part of the political system that have connections to these militias. So, Kadhimi is essentially trying to prosecute gunmen that are operating for a militia-mafia organization. It’s very difficult.”

Osama Al Sharif, a Middle East political commentator in Amman, views al-Kadhimi as a nonpartisan Iraqi nationalist trying to keep his country neutral in the ongoing U.S.-Iran showdown for influence. He points to al-Kadhimi’s efforts drawing Iraq back into the Arab fold with economic deals with Jordan and Egypt and mediation efforts between Saudi Arabia and Iran. He said these moves are “anathema to the pro-Iran proxies.”

Al Sharif, writing in the Jordan News online site, says al-Kadhimi “has few choices if he is to survive politically and keep his country from sinking into a dark chapter of political assassinations and possible civil war.” Al-Kadhimi must find a way “to neutralize and contain the militias,” he says, because Arabs are - in his words - “sick and tired of Iran’s meddling and its disruptive regional agenda.”