Why didn’t Iraq retaliate against Israel? Part 1/2

By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

Iraq and Syria have decided to re-open the border-crossing between the two countries at albu Kamal – al Qaem, a vital move for the economic interests of both countries, with considerable benefits for the “Axis of the Resistance” (Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon). Twenty-four hours before the opening was due, an attack occurred against Iraqi militants positioned on the Syrian side of the border, causing casualties. Hashd al-Shaabi, the Iraqi Security Forces, or the “Popular Mobilisation forces”, accused Israel of the attack, and claim it has sent several drones from military facilities based in US-occupied north-east Syria. The US maintains a static position a few kilometres from al-Qaem bordering the city. Its diplomats in Baghdad have been pressurising the Iraqi government to keep the borders closed in order to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down! Baghdad seems now less determined to re-open the crossing and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi doesn’t have enough domestic political support to take his own decisions, nor to protect his security forces from attacks, nor even to warn the US forces against using Israel to do its work. The other important factor that endagersHashd al-Shaabi in the country is the sharp internal division between politicians and the religious leadership in Iraqi.

In the last month, Israel has violated Iraqi airspace and its sovereignty, targeting its security forces, warehouses and even its military commander. The reason why Israel feels free to attack is simply that it can count on many friends and has common enemies and joint political opponents among Iraqi politicians and in the Arab world: Hashd is the common enemy. 

Indeed, Bahrein’s Foreign Minister hailed the Israeli “ attack on Hashd, brandishing the identical narrative adopted by Israel when attacking an enemy country or a potential threat, i.e. “self-defence”. It is, after all, an essential strategic component of Israel’s deterrence policy adopted by Moshe Dayan since 1955. 

Israel Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu confirmed the attack in Iraq, and his Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz proclaims that Israel is “the only one working against Iran in Iraq”. Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi has no political power behind him and therefore is considered “under the armpit” of Hashd. Although the Marjaiya in Najaf and other key Shia leaders stand against Israel, they and many Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds in Erbil would like to see Hashd free from Iran’s influence, melting within the other security forces and even disappearing once and for all. Moreover, Israel’s presence in Iraq-Kurdistan is not new and Israeli-Kurdish military collaboration is often discussed. Also, to hit Iran’s allies Israel can rely on its sworn US ally in the White House and the logistical facilities US forces offer in Iraq, and the US military facilities in the north-eastern occupied area of Syria.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi ordered the formation of three security committees to investigate the attacks on the Iraqi security forces warehouses and commander. Members of these committees confirmed to me that strong evidence leading to an Israeli involvement have been collected and the results are in the hands of Abdel Mahdi who must decide if he will announce these conclusions publicly.

But Hashd has decided to form its own “air force unit” whose function is to down drones – whether Israeli or American – and to stand against Israel and its ally the US when the opportunity comes. There is little doubt among Iraqi officials that US officials in Iraq were informed in Baghdad about the Israeli movements in Iraqi airspace. It is also little the Iraqi government can do to protect US forces if further attacks against Hashd are sustained. In fact, the US may end up paying the price for Netanyahu’s adventure in Iraq.

Israel is expanding its military activity, violating several states’ sovereignty by attacking selected targets and executing target-killings beyond its borders- with the objective of “cutting off the head of the snake (Iran).” The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi – as a decision-maker in his office told me “is convinced Israel was behind the attack, with the US support, but is trying to avoid a direct accusation and therefore further embarrassment from refraining to respond”. Abdel Mahdi himself said in a private meeting that “the US Embassy personnel is terrorised by the idea of becoming Hashd’s target, saying it is not the US’s responsibility but Israel’s, and promising to put an end to it”. These are the Prime Minister’s exact words. The questions are: why does Israel believe it can hit Iraq and remain unpunished, and what are Iran’s objectives in Iraq?

The objective of both Israel and the US is ultimately aiming to cripple, weaken and subjugate Iran, its allies and all those groups and countries who reject US hegemony in the Middle East, in particular, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. 

The Iraqi Hashd, the “mobilisation force” was created in 2014 by the call of the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Sistani for the “Jihad Kifa’ei” (the collective obligation of Jihad until the adequate number of men is reached to defeat the aggressor). From al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Shia Popular) other branches under the same command sprung up: Hashd al-Ashaaeri (the Sunni tribal mobilisation force) and Hashd Babylon (the Christian mobilisation force). The formation of Hashd al-Shaabi was essential to stopping the advance of ISIS when a third of Iraq was occupied by ISIS and the Iraqi Army was chaotically withdrawing (InsihabKay’fi), and on the run from most of Nineveh, Salahuddin and Anbar provinces.

In 2014, when ISIS occupied a third of Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki asked Iran and Hezbollah to provide trainers for two reasons: the US refused to help (US intervention came only two months after the ISIS occupation) and to deliver weapons already paid for, to both Baghdad and Erbil; Iraq needed a strong ideology to stand against a similar one (ISIS) in the opposite camp. This indeed created a robust ideology and a platform for both Hezbollah and Iran to be universally present. The US has also managed to create reliable allies within the Iraqi anti-terrorism “Golden Units” and other Army units, by providing training and security. Because of its strong foothold within Hashd, Iran was not welcomed by the Marjaiya in Najaf (one of the Shia theological centres), nor by the powerful Shia Leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

Proofread by: Maurice Brasher and C.G.B

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