US urges Iraq to crack down on militias ahead of Al Kadhimi visit

The top US diplomat in the Middle East on Wednesday called on the Iraqi government to crack down on Iranian-backed militias and hold them accountable for the disappearances and killings of Iraqi human rights and civil society activists at the time. that Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi is preparing to visit Washington this month.

“We are also discussing whenever we can with the Iraqi government its demands, its moral duty to protect peaceful protesters and civil society activists,” said Joey Hood, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Affairs. from the Middle East.

“We have no doubt that anti-democratic armed militias are behind these cowardly acts, and the targeting of human rights and democracy defenders must end. And we will testify to it. And we will encourage the Iraqi government to confront these militias until we do so and bring them to justice.

Speaking at a panel on Iraq hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hood noted that last week marked the anniversary of the assassination of Hisham Al Hashimi, an Iraqi expert on extremist groups. who was shot dead in Baghdad.

Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah is widely believed to be behind the assassination of Al Hashimi.

“We continue to call on the Iraqi government to bring to justice those responsible for his murder, as well as those responsible for the murder of Ihab Al Wazni and the disappearance and murder of hundreds of other protesters and civil society activists.” Mr. Hood said. .

Ihab Al Wazni, who was assassinated in May, was a leader of the popular Iraqi anti-government protest movement and a critic of Iran.

The assassination of Al Wazni fueled the protests, which began in 2019 due to deteriorating economic conditions and persistent electricity shortages. After thousands of people gathered to protest his death in Baghdad, Iranian-backed militias shot and beat protesters, killing one and injuring dozens more.

Mr Hood called on the Iranian-backed militias to stop violence against the Iraqi people and end the attacks on US forces stationed throughout Iraq.

“We want them to leave us alone and to leave the Iraqi people alone,” Hood said. “The more time we spend dodging rocket attacks and defending ourselves, which we will do, the less time we can spend on all of these other issues that are very, very important, like saving lives from Covid. “

US President Joe Biden’s latest round of airstrikes last month against Iranian-backed militias – carried out in response to a drone attack on the US consulate in Erbil – sparked further attacks on US forces by groups armed.

The wave of violence between the United States and the militias will be high on the agenda when Mr. Al Kadhimi arrives in Washington this month for the latest strategic dialogue between the two countries.

This will be Mr. Al Kadhimi’s first visit to Washington since Mr. Biden took office.

The prime minister is under intense pressure from Iranian-backed militias, as well as the Sadrist movement, to expel US forces from Iraq.

Washington and Baghdad began a series of strategic dialogues last year to define the future role of US forces in Iraq after the Iraqi parliament took a symbolic, non-binding vote to expel US troops following the murder of the force chief Iranian Quds, Major General Qassem Suleimani and Popular Mobilization Forces Commander Abu Madhi Al Muhandis.

“These meetings are aimed at expanding our bilateral relationship,” Hood said. “But of course, if the militias get what they want, all media attention will be focused on those one or two sentences from the joint communiqué talking about our cooperative security relationship.

“Don’t fall for this trap. Focus on everything we are doing or should be doing to develop this two-way relationship.

Part of the long statement released after the last round of US-Iraqi strategic dialogues in April alluded to the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq.

However, the deal is unlikely to significantly change the position of US forces in Iraq, as the vast majority of the 2,500 US troops stationed there remain in an advisory capacity as part of the campaign to defeat the remnants of the United States. ‘Islamic State.

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