A member of the Iraqi Golden Brigade shows the victory sign on top of an American armored Humvee adorned with a Shiite religious flag of Imam Hussein. Mosul/Nov. 2016. Photo: Rudaw
By Dhafir Abdul-Sattar al-Samarrai
A statement from the spokesperson of the Iranian armed forces Brigadier Masoud Jazayeri on the joint military drill with Iraq in the coming days on the borders of the Kurdistan Region came as no surprise to any observers and political analysts who are monitoring the situation in the region and the post-referendum atmosphere.
It comes immediately after the end of similar drills by the Turkish and Iraqi armies in which 35 Iraqi soldiers participated. Indeed it was all expected thanks to the American administration’s position to Kurdistan Region’s referendum and the will of its people. That very position which entails a great deal of overreaction reflected negatively on the perception of the ordinary Kurdish citizen towards the United States which until only a few short days ago was considered their staunchest ally.
A reaction as this was taken by Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad as nothing but the green light to set in motion an unstoppable flood of threats, political position and punitive actions against Kurdistan and its people including military drills with the Iraqi army.
The drills took place on both countries’ shared borders starting from Qasre Shirin to Parwezkha, Mariwan and Tamarchin near Piranshahir on the Iranian side and in Diyala province on the Iraqi side. In fact the operation was not conducted with the Iraqi army but in conjunction with the Shiite militia of Hashd al-Shaabi who are in full control of the Diyala province and are spearheaded by Al-Khorasani brigades, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Iraqi Hezbollah who are all directly answerable to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Prior to the announcement of the drills there was a meeting between Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia group Qais al-Khazali and the prime minister’s office said it was to coordinate the government response to the Kurdish referendum. The question is: What’s a militia group got to do with the government response, a man who occupies no government position? But this should be no surprise. Iraq is run by militiamen.
The gathering held under the auspices of the Iranian commander Bagheri pointed out “sealing off its territories and calling on Iran for cooperation on stability and asserting the sovereignty of the central government on all crossing points between both countries,”
Therefore, one of the clear aims of that is the handover of all Iraqi border crossings between Iran and the Kurdistan Region to the militia, and naturally Iraq will not stop such a move, or to put it more accurately, will not be able to stop it even if it wanted to. It’s Tehran calling the shots.
Going back to the military aspect of affairs, the maneuvers are to test fire attack and defensive American weapons the Hashd al-Shaabi have acquired through the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. They include long-range mobile artillery and anti-mine armored vehicles. The United States is not dealing with the Hashd al-Shaabi directly, but rather through the Ministry of Defense that passes on American weapons and provides all logistical support.
This American approach is of utmost strangeness. At a time when it screams day and night that Iran is expanding its influence in Iraq we see America supplying the men of General Qasem Soleimani with what they need of advanced weapons and ammunition which in the meantime enables them to impose their full unchallenged control on Iraq with the pretext that the Hashd al-Shaabi are two and not all belong to Iran.
But the Americans, if we can presume their good intention, of course, have not seen the television interview with the Hashd al-Shaabi second-in-command Mahdi al-Muhandis with an Iranian channel where he says he’s proud to be a soldier of Ayatollah Khamenei and General Qasem Soleimani which he calls a blessing bestowed on him by God and he wishes to be buried in Iran upon his death. The man is free to say what he believes for this is an individual right and freedom of belief.
The Americans may have forgotten, but we remind them that Mr. al-Muhandis occupies a position of highest importance and that is being the actual commander of the Hashd al-Shaabi, in charge of ground operations and political and military planning. We’re rightly astonished not to see any response from the government in Baghdad albeit symbolic.
The military drills of Iran and the Hashd al-Shaabi change nothing of the reality and will add nothing to the truth that the Hashd have been trained in Iran under the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force and these drills will add nothing new to either side except perhaps Iran learning how some of the advanced American weapons work in case of similar but real situations in the future. One question that I’m unable to answer is: Did Iran and Iraq send an invitation to American advisors to attend the drills as a way to improve relations between Iran and the US? To be honest, were I to hold this position, I would have invited American advisors and I assume pragmatic Americans would have accepted it.
The reality on the ground is that neither the Iraqi, nor the Iranian or Turkish army is capable of harming the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region and its people. And here, what you reap and sow are in fact two different things and they know that very well. Therefore all the shouting is pointless and will not change the fact that the will of a people will not be broken by storms of evil, intimidation and threats.