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Militias keep up attacks, hit US base in Kurdistan Region

Rocket attacks continued in Iraq, as Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi seeks to rein in armed factions following the US government's threat to close its embassy in Iraq.

On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met at the government palace in Baghdad with ambassadors from 25 nations to discuss the security situation in Iraq. Following the meeting — which included representatives from a number of Western and Arab states — the ambassadors issued a statement condemning the attacks against foreign diplomatic missions and troops and expressed support for the prime minister's actions to address the foreign missions' concerns in the country. 

Attacks by militias on foreign missions and troops have increased in recent days. 

Al-Harir military base, a US installation in Iraq's Kurdistan region, was hit by rockets late Sep. 30. Two days earlier, on Sept. 28, a Katyusha rocket hit a civilian home in Radwaniyah district near Baghdad’s airport, killing five people and wounding others. The rocket was targeting a US base located by the airport but hit the house mistakenly. This comes in conjunction with a series of other attacks, including two others on Sept. 28 on logistics convoys of US troops in southern Iraq.

The attacks follow US warnings to Iraqi officials that it would close its embassy in Baghdad and withdraw its entire military and diplomatic staff from southern Iraq to the Kurdistan region.

The warning has shaken Iraqi politics and has led to a wide alliance against small groups of militias within the Popular Mobilization Units. But will this alliance succeed in stopping these militias?

Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr on Sept. 25 called for the formation of a committee to investigate security breaches against diplomatic missions and official state premises. Prime Minister Kadhimi welcomed this call and asserted that the "coalition of corruption and uncontrolled weapons" has no place in Iraq.

Iraqi parliament speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi supported Sadr’s initiative on the same day and called for an investigation into the repeated missile attacks on the US Embassy.

Sadr’s warnings on Sept. 18 of a “dark tunnel in Iraq due to the targeting of cultural and diplomatic locations” coincided with bombs that targeted the American Institute for English Learning in Najaf on the same day. The escalation seemed systematic, as bombs also targeted convoys transporting equipment for the international coalition in the Salahuddin governorate.

A missile fell near the US Victory Base Complex at the Baghdad International Airport Sept. 20, and Katyusha missiles struck near the vicinity of the US Embassy in the Green Zone in the middle of Baghdad on Sept. 19.

On Sept. 15, a bomb targeted a convoy of diplomatic vehicles affiliated with the British Embassy in Baghdad.

The repeated targeting of the US Embassy prompted US Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller on Sept. 17 to remark that “targeting the US Embassy and international coalition forces in Iraq" was an "undermining of Iraqi state authority.”

Analyses indicate that targeting diplomatic missions is a clear escalation of power in the conflict between the government and radical groups and an indirect way to pressure the government, which is trying to fight corruption. Meanwhile, Iraqi Armed Forces spokesperson Yehya Rasoul told Al-Monitor, “Attacking any embassy, diplomatic mission or international coalition convoys is illegal. Diplomatic missions and the international coalition are in Iraq according to official agreements and are trying to develop the Iraqi forces in terms of training, armament and equipment. Targeting them harms the Iraqi forces.”

Badr al-Ziyadi, a member of Sairoon Alliance’s parliamentary defense and security commission, told Al-Monitor, “Targeting missions and vehicles transporting support for the coalition is taking an escalatory turn. If the purpose behind attacking diplomatic missions is to force foreign forces to leave, then political and parliamentary methods must be used rather than throwing Iraq into a state of security chaos.”

Former member of parliament and current politician Wael Abdul Latif believes “attacking missions constitutes an armed breach of the state’s will, and it has a negative impact on Iraq’s international reputation.”

Meanwhile, political writer and researcher and secretary of the National Media Center Mahmoud al-Hashimi told Al-Monitor, “The biggest mistake that successive Iraqi governments and political blocs made was their failure to deter previous attacks on foreign consulates in Iraq, like the Iranian one. They considered these attacks victories, while the government stance was weak, even inexistent, in punishing the culprits.”

The armed groups justify the attack on the US Embassy, saying “it had become a semi-military barrack, and that encroaching on it with soldiers and anti-missile tanks meant that it had turned into a military location, legitimizing an attack on it.”

Ihsan al-Shammari, director of the Center for Political Thinking, told Al-Monitor that personal political interests hide behind the stances toward the attack on missions. “For instance, Sadr’s stance is linked to enhancing the image of a Shiite leader who is working in the framework of the state and following its official discourse. Sadr does not want himself and his followers to look as though they are above the state. He also started to believe that the peaceful track will distance Iraq from the repercussions of the dispute between Tehran and Washington,” Shammari said.

He detected a collective agreement on a truce. “Internally, escalating tensions to reach clashes will worsen security chaos. Therefore, calls for the exit of US forces according to legal proceedings is part of the united parliamentary stance in this regard," he added. “Sadr might have joined forces with rational Shiite parties that believe the US withdrawal should happen through legal means and bilateral understandings.”

Shammari added, “Shiite targeting of US interests has dwindled because most prefer a political solution and are raising their voice against targeting the US presence.”

He said there still exists “division among Shiites toward Sadr’s call. Some factions refuse it and want to continue their attacks.”

Shammari does not expect “an armed confrontation between Shiite parties due to Sadr’s calls. Iran has good ties and communication channels with Sadr.”

Evidently, there is a clear rift between the stances of radical groups that want escalation and do not account for the repercussions and the majority of political Shiite and Kurdish parties that refuse escalation. The latter disapprove of targeting diplomatic missions and international coalition convoys, as such acts harm internal stability and relations with Washington and the world.

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