A Significant Nomination in Iraq
On Monday, June 24th the Iraqi Parliament approved the nomination of the following Ministers: General (Res.) Najah Hassan Ali al-Shammari to be Iraq’s Minister of Defense; Yassin Taher Hassan al-Yasiri to be Iraq’s Minister of Interior Affairs; and Farouk al-Shwani to be Iraq’s Minister of Justice.
The Iraqi elections were held in May 2018. Since then – until Monday, those three positions had not been filled.
The reason for the delay was the power struggle within Iraq between Iranian proxies and pro-Iranian factors and those who reject Iranian intervention in Iraq and in Iraqi affairs. (On the Iranian-Iraqi struggle in Iraq, please see some articles I have published on that issue below).
In my analysis, Al- Shammari’s nomination is a political achievement for the Iraqi camp that opposes Iranian intervention in Iraq.
Five facts support that evaluation:
1. On June 18th, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Senior Iraqi political leader and Senior Shi’ite Cleric, head of the paramilitary force Saraya al-Salam (The Peace Companies), the leader of the largest Iraqi political coalition – Saeroun (“Marching On”), and a bitter opponent of Iran’s intervention in Iraq, sent an ultimatum to the Iraqi government: “Fill the positions – or I will order my supporters to go on strike and hold protest demonstrations against the government.’
2. It has been reported that Iraq demanded Iran stop its Iraqi proxies from attacking U.S. military personnel and civilians in Iraq.
3. The nomination takes place few days after a joint announcement of Iraqi President, Barham Salih (who is Kurdish) and Iraqi Prime Minister ‘Adil ‘abdul al-Mahdi (who is Shi’ite) demanding that all weapons should be under state authority only. Though not overtly stated – the announcement refers to the challenge presented by Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militias called Al-Hashd al-Sha’abi (the Popular Mobility Units OR PMU). Officially part of the Iraqi security forces, the PMU consist of some 70 Iraqi (mostly Shi’ite) paramilitary militias and numbers between 40,000 and 160,000 militants. Though not all of the militias that comprise the PMU are affiliated with Iran – the leading and most powerful militias are affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG), are tuned to the messages coming out of Teheran, and are meant to implement Iranian policy on the ground.
4. Al- Shammari is Sunni retired General who earned his military education in Iraq, Jordan and the United States. He is affiliated with the Shi’ite Iraqi politician, previous Prime Minister of Iraq, and current Vice President of Iraq, Ayad Allawi – who opposed Iran’s intervention in Iraq and in Iraqi affairs.
5. In his first formal speech as the Minister of Defense, Al- Shammari emphasized the need to “strengthen Iraq’s armed forces, to defend democracy and the Iraqi constitution, and to enhance coordination (using the Arabic term Tansik – but not the term Ta’awoun which means cooperation) with the PMU as well as the Sunni Tribal paramilitary frame.” In analyzing his very carefully made speech, it is my evaluation that his speech indicates his affiliation with the Iraqi camp that opposes Iranian intervention in Iraq and in Iraqi affairs.
The timing of Al- Shammari’s nomination is significant. With the rising tensions in the Gulf, Iran’s proxies in Iraq are a critical tool to carry out Iran’s policy of calculated military provocations. Over the past two months (May and June), the PMU has launched attacks on US military personnel and U.S. civilians (oil industry workers) in Iraq.
For months Iran – via its supporters and proxies in Iraq – vetoed the nomination of an Iraqi Minister of Defense. They demanded the position be filled by a person Iran approves. Al- Shammari’s nomination indicates Iran backed down on that demand.
Will Iran challenge the nomination by ordering its proxies to increase and perhaps escalate their attacks on U.S. assets in Iraq? Or does the Iranian compromise signal that they are interested in calming tensions with the US and that they will stop using their proxies in Iraq to provoke the U.S?
The days ahead will answer that question.
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