Iran Bulldozes Baghdad into New Government for Expelling US Troops from Iraq

Neither the prospect of a summit with US President Donald Trump, nor imminent economic meltdown under US sanctions is deterring Iran’s violent Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) from acting in character. Armed with a budget independent of the national treasury, the IRGC’s top strategist is cajoling and bribing the losing factions of Iraq’s May general election to form a pro-Iranian coalition government, whose first task will be to throw US troops out of Iraq – and of Syria, too, in consequence.

Three months after the vote, the counting of ballots is not done. DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources reveal that Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC’s Al Quds chief and Iran’s foremost foreign troublemaker, is taking full advantage of this hiatus to put his bricks in place in Baghdad. Last week, he spent time in Irbil, capital of the Kurdish Regional Government of northern Iraq, in search of the numbers still short for the government he is cobbling together. It is designated to consist of the “State of Law” group led by ex-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Al-Nasr alliance headed by outgoing prime minister Haydar al-Abadi, the Al-Fatah group under the Bader militia chief Hadi al-Ameri and, if possible, the Kurdish factions. This government, he calculates, will be strong enough to squeeze the anti-Iran Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr’s party, which won the election, over to the opposition benches in parliament.

At his secret meeting with Kurdish leaders in Irbil last week, Soleimani presented an eight-poin plan for their cooperation. It included an aid package to help the KRG on the road to recover economically and politically from the loss in 2017 of most of its controlling stake in Kirkuk and its oilfields. The irony was that Soleimani also strategized the Iraqi military operation which wrested much of Kirkuk from KRG control.

DEBKA Weekly reveals that his plan is a concoction of give and take:

  • The KRG must abandon its ties with America. After all, he argued, although you helped them defeat ISIS in Mosul, they ditched you in 2017 when your backs were against the wall.
  • Your brethren in Syria have taken this lesson to heart, which is why they are negotiating a deal with Bashar Assad for military and economic cooperation. They are no longer willing to serve US interests in Syria and you should follow their example in Iraq.
  • Influential portfolios with authority over security and economic affairs are on offer for joining a pro-Iranian government coalition in Baghdad.
  • Kurdish ministers will enjoy preferential status in central government.
  • Hadi Al Ameri will be prime minister and we shall push Moqtada Sadr and his henchmen to the sidelines.
  • Tehran will smooth out all Irbil’s problems with central government over its stake in the oil city of Kirkuk.
  • Tehran will also neutralize the hostile friction between the Kurdish Peshmerga army and the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias, the People’s Mobilization ‘Committees (PMC) and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).
  • Iran will guarantee the Kurds a fair share of Iraq’s oil revenues every month. Baghdad is in default of its contract to relay a 17 percent share to Irbil.

Our sources report that the Kurdish leaders listened attentively to the Al Qods chief’s proposition. Some nodded; others were skeptical. They will reach a final decision next week. If they decide in the affirmative, Tehran will be able to establish in Baghdad an Iranian puppet government, headed by the former head of the Shiite Bader Brigades militia, a former instrument of the Revolutionary Guards. One of Ameri’s first steps as prime minister of Iraq would be to demand the exit of US troops from his country. Tehran is counting on their removal from Iraq to topple America’s eastern Syrian bases and its control of the border with Iraq. By installing a vassal in Baghdad, the IRGC’s top strategist will achieve the withdrawal of a US military presence from both countries.

However, before closing any deals with the Iranian emissary, the Kurds canvassed other options.

On July 30, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani turned up unannounced in Baghdad and sat down with Abadi, the current prime minister of Iraq. He listened to another round for incentives held up Abadi’s sleeve for resisting Soleimani’s lures.

They discussed reopening the Irbil-Kirkuk, Duhok-Mosul and Sinjar-Duhok main roads, which Iraqi forces blockaded to traffic last October to punish the Kurds for their independence referendum in September. He also agreed to forward the app. $260m per month owed the KRG as its share in Iraq’s oil receipts.

The Kurds are keeping the Al-Qods chief guessing for the moment, and meanwhile cashing in from both their rival suitors.

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