While making a surprise visit to Iraqi proxy militias in Baghdad last week, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards intelligence chief Hossein Taeb reportedly urged the militias to increase their attacks on United States targets, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Three militia and two Iraqi security sources told Reuters that the Iranian delegation met several Iraqi militia leaders and conveyed “the [Iranian] supreme leader’s message to them about keeping up the pressure on U.S. forces in Iraq until they leave the region.”
Furthermore, several militia sources were quoted as saying that the Iranians advised them to increase their attacks against U.S. forces but not to go too far to avoid a serious escalation. Taeb also urged Iraqi proxy militias to attack U.S. forces in Syria.
Amwaj media claims that Taeb and a “large delegation” also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at his office inside the fortified Green Zone. The Iranians did not coordinate with any of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which has not been their usual operating procedure.
A Conflict Within the Iranian Government
Taeb’s message to the militias is different than that of Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani, the successor of assassinated commander MG Qassem Soleimani.
Recently, Esmail Ghaani held a meeting with senior PMF militia members asking them to rein in the attacks on U.S. interests until after the nuclear talks of reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are completed. Nevertheless, the militias disregarded this.
This begs the question of whether all the Iranian government factions are in agreement over policy regarding the U.S. presence in Iraq and Syria.
Taeb’s message to the Iraqi PMF militias underscores what the Iranian envoy to the UN said in a statement to the U.N. Security Council.
After the U.S. told the UN Security Council that the June airstrikes on the militias were to deter further aggression against U.S. forces and presence in the region, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s envoy, said: “Any claim to attribute to Iran… any attack carried out against American personnel or facilities in Iraq is factually wrong and void of the minimum requirements of authenticity and reliability,” according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA.
“The U.S. argument that such attacks were conducted to deter… Iran and the so-called Iran-backed militia groups from conducting or supporting further attacks…, has no factual or legal ground, as it is founded on mere fabrication as well as arbitrary interpretation of Article 51.”
“The attacks by the United States are conducted in flagrant violation of international law,” Ravanchi added.
Iraqi Militias May Soon March to Their Own Beat
The disconnect between the Iranian factions and the militias has some analysts thinking that the militias are increasingly believing that Tehran is “exploiting” them in their proxy war against the United States.
Amwaj wrote that the Iranian intelligence chief was berated by some of the Iraqi militia commanders. “We wanted to move earlier to strike U.S. bases in Iraq, but you asked us to wait, and every time we wait because of you, we get embarrassed in front of our supporters.”
The Iraqi commander added, “Your policy has weakened us, and there will be a moment when no relationships, pressures, or de-escalation attempts will stop us, and we will be the ones solely deciding on when this moment will be.”
Meanwhile, the Vienna talks on restarting the JCPOA and lifting the crippling economic sanctions are far from complete as the two sides are conducting only indirect negotiations. Simultaneously, Iran’s ultimate goal of forcing the U.S. out of the Middle East has the Iraqi government stuck in the middle.