iran iraq suleimani
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 pressuring 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 endangers Hashd 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 because 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. There 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 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.

Part 2

The US and Israel are manoeuvring between the internal Iraqi differences in order to hit Hashd al-Shaabi, the "Popular Mobilisation Forces" (PMF). These forces have gathered significant domestic support and created many enemies among the Iraqis. The reason for this antipathy is the Iranian fingerprint within the PMF. Yet Iran is supposed to be close to Iraq, a neighbouring country, with which it shares a strong religious bond. Iran supported the country when Baghdad was threatened by ISIS.

It goes back to when Moqtada was terrorising the city of Najaf with his thugs and threatening Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Sistani, Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi and Sheikh Ishac al-Fay'yad. Moqtada was then Iran's favourite pawn because he took the initiative to stand against the US forces. It was only after five years of Iran's full support to Moqtada before the relationship started to degenerate in 2008, and became embittered a few years later. Al-Sadr accused Iran of splitting the Sadrist leadership into several groups: "Asaebahl al-Haq", "Harakat al Nujabaa and "Kataeb Imam Ali". But Moqtada was not the only one with an issue with Iran.

The Marjaiya held Iran responsible for supporting Moqtada at the start and disapproved of the 2003 and 2004 confrontation with the US forces, even if the Grand Ayatollah Sistani was the one who saved Moqtada's life and prevented US forces from capturing him. Sayyed Ali Sistani today maintains a cordial relationship with the Sadrist leader - without necessarily endorsing his un-strategic acts - and shares with Moqtada his discontent with Iran's policy and interference in Iraqi affairs. Sayyed Sistani wanted to avoid Iraq becoming the theatre for the Iran-US struggle and continues to think along the same lines today. The Marjaiya in Najaf accused Soleimani and Hezbollah, tacitly, of intervening in Iraq and manoeuvring the formation of several governments.

To the displeasure and disagreement of both Sayyed Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran played, along with Hezbollah, an essential role in routing a strong ideology among militants and security forces and in the formation of several Iraqi governments from just after the Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari until the current Premier Adel Abdel Mahdi. Sayyed Sistani, for the first time ever, wrote a letter in black and white to prevent al-Maliki from winning a third term. Haidar al-Abadi replaced al-Maliki, to the disapproval of Soleimani. Abadi was very hostile to Soleimani throughout his mandate, but the IRGC commander played an essential role in the election of Adel Abdel Mahdi and helped to bring down Abadi.

When ISIS occupied a third of Iraq and all differences were suspended - but not resolved - Hashd was formed through the call of Sayyed Sistani, armed by Iran who delivered weapons to Baghdad and Erbil to fight a common enemy before it reached the doorstep of Iran itself. Sayyed Sistani formed units within Hashd and armed them using the money of "beit al-mal" (the Islamic treasury).

The US and Iraq are now present within the same perimeter, in different military bases spread throughout Iraq. And the American forces have full control, independence and autonomy over the large sections of each base under their control. That was Abadi's "gift" to the Americans because the (ex) Prime Minister had agreed to give the US forces full immunity and autonomy in the bases.

But the US - according to the Iraqi intelligence services in Baghdad who rely on friendly radar and trusted intelligence - is believed to be using the bases as a logistic support for Israel. The Iraqi sources have reason to believe that the suicide drones used against the Iraqi security forces, and the drone responsible for the assassination against the Iraqi commander, took off from different parts of Iraq itself.

Israel is renowned for its more than adequate reading of the political situation, most of the time, in every country it is operating in or with - essential knowledge for assessing threats and consequences. Indeed, the political situation in Iraq today does resemble the Lebanese political situation in 2006 when Israel decided to wage war on Lebanon. In 2006, Lebanon was divided between the group called the 8th of March that supports the "Axis of the Resistance" and the pro-US group called the 14th of March. Israel benefitted from the domestic internal division among Lebanese and wanted - but failed - to disarm Hezbollah and force its withdrawal from the entire south of Lebanon and the borders with Syria. The Lebanese government led by a 14th of March member unsuccessfully attempted to dismantle the most secret fibre-optic closed circuit Hezbollah communication system linking the various parts of Lebanon, including a few lines that connected with Syrian officials.

Today, in 2019, Iraq is in a similar situation to Lebanon in 2006. Even worse, in Iraq, the Shia are divided over the function and continuity of the Iraqi security force, Hashd al-Shaabi and how to "dilute" it within the Federal Police and the Army so as to avoid the emergence and officialising of an independent entity.

These domestic differences are providing a loophole for Israel to sneak in and fight Iran's allies in Tehran's backyard. US-Iran tension has reached its peak and a possible war against Iran continues to loom over the Middle East. Iran is said to have delivered precision missiles to the Iraqi forces. Regardless, the Shia Iraqi leader Sayyed Ammar al-Hakin said: "Iraq is not a warehouse for all non-Iraqi weapons; Iraq is not a theatre in any other war. We should put our differences aside."

Iran wants Hashd to gain strength because ISIS and the US still have strong presences in Iraq. Tehran wishes to continue benefitting financially from Iraq's stability to ease the US administration "maximum pressure" on its economy, sell its oil and electricity and promote its commerce. This is allowing the US and Israel to have some sort of free hand in Mesopotamia but not for long. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu can no longer repeat, against Iraq, his hundreds of attacks on Syria in the last years because he will endanger US forces, for certain. Iraq is now starting, with its serious contacts with Russia, Iran and China, to look for alternative missile capabilities in order to prevent future aggression. Unlike Syria, for now Mesopotamia will not become Israel's playground.