Speaking at a press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir in Riyadh on October 22, US State Secretary Rex Tillerson said, “Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home. The foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control.” A senior US official clarified that Tillerson’s invitation to “go home” was specifically directed at the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia and Iran’s Quds Force, which has been providing material support, training, and operational leadership for them. The secretary added that the United States hopes “European companies, countries, and others around the world” will join in isolating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which oversees the Quds Force. He said the IRGC is working to “foment instability in the region and create destruction in the region.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rejected a call by Washington for Iranian-backed fighters to leave Iraq at a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Baghdad on October 23. The PM insisted that the force consists solely of Iraqi nationals who "fought terrorism" and made sacrifices that contributed to the victory over the Islamic State terrorist group. Calling it "part of the Iraqi institutions," he said PMF fighters "should be encouraged because they will be the hope of country and the region", according to a statement by his media office.
Tillerson's visit to Baghdad came a few days after the Iraqi army, backed by the Shia-majority PMF (the Hashed al-Shaabi), claimed control of all of oil-rich Kirkuk province. The 60,000-strong PMF was cobbled together from Iranian-backed militias in 2014 after the Islamic State militants took over large parts of northern Iraq. Trained and armed by Iran, the Iraqi Hashed al-Shaabi fought side by side with Iraqi government army against the militants. They are paid by the Iraqi government and officially report to the Prime Minister. The Iraqi parliament has voted to integrate the militia into state forces. Critics allege that visits by Iran's Major General Qassem Soleimani, a commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards who advises the PMF, reflect Tehran's influence in the country.
Tillerson’s statement is not only a flagrant meddling in the other country’s internal affairs. It’s the statement made by the official of the country, which illegally invaded Iraq in 2003. It is still deeply involved in the country’s politics.
The State Secretary did not say the PMF had to “go home” when they were taking part in the US-backed operation to free Mosul from Islamic State! The Shia, Christians and Assyrians bore the brunt of the fighting. Now the Shia militias have become expandable. For Shia Muslims Tehran is the stronghold of their faith the same way Vatican is the stronghold of Catholicism. The Shia, Sunni and Kurds are all Iraqis and there are all home in Iraq.
The details of the alleged deal reached between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) on October 16 have been released recently. The released info argues that PUK-linked Peshmerga units were to surrender control of the contested territories to the PMU. Reports based on it have been widely spread by media outlets linked to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its leader, Masoud Barzani. The agreement was supposedly signed by the son of the leader of PUK, Pavel Talabani, and states that the contentious areas are to be surrendered to the PMU. So, it was an oil deal which presupposed that the Iraqi government would fund the Kurdish administration and the militias while receiving its share of oil revenues. The deal went through on the condition of Kurdistan preserving its status as part of Iraq. It was a deal between the two sides and Iran had nothing to do with it. The US couldn’t influence the deal. Iran has no reason to intervene if Kurdistan remains part of Iraq.
Tillerson appears to support Israel’s position. Tel Aviv is concerned over Tehran’s alleged plans of securing a corridor from its border, through Iraq and all the way to the Mediterranean and providing it unhindered land access to its allies in Syria and Lebanon for the first time. The shared concern makes the US keep its al-Tanf base in southern Syria and hinder the movement of Syrian government forces to the Iraqi border. But in Iraq the Shia PMF are not creating any “corridors” from Iran to Syria. They report to Iraqi PM and operate upon the orders.
Under the circumstances, the US behaves like a bull in china shop, openly intervening into the other state’s internal affairs. It makes Baghdad resist the pressure and look for other partners. On October 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari met in Moscow to discuss the situation in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. The visit coincided with the meeting of Iraqi-Russian intergovernmental commission on Trade, Economic, and Scientific and Technical Cooperation in Moscow on October 23-25, which discussed joint oil projects with Russian Rosneft in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Baghdad is looking forward to a visit of President Vladimir Putin to Iraq. He called Russia a strategic partner. In July, 2017, Russia and Iraq inked a big arms deal.
Mr. Tillerson was given a chilly reception in Iraq. Baghdad stands up to the challenge rejecting the US policy of outright interference into its internal affairs. The US pressure brought about the opposite result. The presumption that the US has overwhelming power to influence other countries’ policies is no longer valid. But with old instincts dying hard, hubris continues to inspire poor foreign policy decisions in Washington.