Iran is playing war games in Iraq

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Struan Stevenson (UPI)

n an interview on Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath TV on Christmas Eve, Zafer al-Aani, a senior member of the Iraqi Parliament, blamed the recent rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad squarely on Iran.

A volley of 21 rockets hit the embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone on Dec. 20, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to warn that if any Americans were killed, he would hold the Iranians responsible and consider a military response. Confirming Trump’s accusation against the theocratic regime, al-Aani accused Esmail Ghaani, commander in chief of the terrorist Quds Force, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ extra-territorial wing, of being behind the attack, which injured an Iraqi security officer and damaged some residential buildings in the American compound.

Ghaani took over from the notorious terrorist Gen. Qassem Soleimani, following his elimination in a U.S. drone attack at Baghdad Airport in January 2020. The Iranian theocratic regime has pledged retaliatory action ever since and Ghaani’s visit to Baghdad in November was seen as a likely precursor to a renewed onslaught on U.S. personnel in Iraq.

It is thought that Ghaani briefed Shi’ia militia proxies in Iraq, who are funded by the Iranian mullahs, and instructed them on how to launch the December rocket attack. Al-Aani said: “There is no doubt that any missile fired by militants in Iraq has been commanded by Ghaani. After all, who has such facilities except this regime? ISIS or the Ba’athists do not have such facilities because this needs facilities and a state’s legal and political cover so that these terrorist militias can take such actions.”

Quizzed about the Iranian regime’s influence in Iraq, al-Aani said: “Let me tell you frankly that the power and hegemony of the Iranian regime in Iraq has diminished much more than before, that is, since the time of Soleimani, it has diminished more. These popular protests and hundreds of martyrs and thousands of supporters, many of whom have been arrested or disappeared, have taken to the streets with the slogan of ‘Iran out!’ in Basra, Nasiriyah, Karbala, Najaf, etc.

“Everyone knows that all the crimes committed in Iraq are committed by the Iranian regime. Of course, the account of the Iranian people is separate and they are also victims of the same regime, as we see how they tear down pictures of Khomeini, Khamenei and Soleimani, while the (Shi’ia) militias in Iraq put up their pictures and hold ceremonies and anniversaries for them.

“In fact, the Iranian regime relied heavily on spiritual, religious and political power, but in Iraq it can no longer pursue its policies except by force, either by itself or by its proxies. But it is well aware that whatever it wants to do in Iraq will be met with a huge flood of protests, so it is dying and can only do so with the force of repression.”

Like his ruthless predecessor Soleimani, Ghaani has taken up the post of Quds Force chief with blood-thirsty enthusiasm. Ghaani served as Soleimani’s deputy for 20 years, rising quickly through the IRGC ranks after helping to crush the Kurdish uprising following the overthrow of the shah in the 1979 revolution.

While Soleimani focused on the Iranian regime’s proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, Ghaani’s job was to bolster terrorist militias in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Africa. He was placed on America’s terrorist blacklist in 2012 after 13 shipping containers destined for Gambia, labeled as “packages of glass wool and pallets of stone,” were intercepted in Nigeria and found to hold 107mm Katyusha rockets, rifle ammunition and other weapons.

Since 2014, Ghaani’s focus has increasingly turned to the Middle East. During the war against the Islamic State in Iraq, he was seen several times in Quds Force delegations organiz\sing the genocidal campaign against the predominantly Sunni population of al-Anbar province, where hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were ethnically cleansed from the ancient cities of Fallujah and Ramadi and Mosul.

He has also been closely involved with the Houthi rebels in Yemen, openly boasting of his connection on Iranian state-run television. Following the killing of the IRGC commander Hossein Hamedani in Syria in October 2015, Ghaani assumed command of the clerical regime’s proxy forces in Aleppo, supervising and aiding Bashar al-Assad‘s bloody massacre of his own Syrian civilian population.

Pledging “harsh revenge” for the killing of his former boss Soleimani, Ghaani, who is now answerable only to the theocratic regime’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said: “We promise to continue down the martyr Soleimani’s path as firmly as before with the help of God and in return for his martyrdom we aim to get rid of America from the region.”

Ghaani’s tough talk and his bloodstained past may serve to bolster his Gestapo-like credentials in the eyes of Iran’s tyrannical dictators, but it will do little to dent the determination of the Islamic Republic’s 80 million, care-worn and struggling population, who have taken to the streets in the hundreds of thousands in the past year in protest of the venal corruption of the ruling mullahs, their wanton spending on conflict and terror and their disastrous bungling of the coronavirus pandemic, now accounting for over 200,000 deaths.

Nor will it diminish the hatred for Iranian meddling in their country felt by the majority of Iraqis, who blame Iran and the terrorist IRGC for supervising the killing of 500 unarmed protesters by black-uniformed and masked gunmen during nationwide demonstrations in December 2019 and January 2020. Having pledged to identify and hold to account those responsible for shooting the unarmed protesters, the Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is watching Ghaani closely.

Presiding over an economy that has been destroyed by years of conflict and corruption and a security system that has been hijacked by pro-Iranian warlords, Kadhimi has his work cut out. Iraq’s dire financial position means that he relies on Washington for economic support. Trump’s imminent departure and the arrival of President-elect Joe Biden may mark the beginning of a new U.S.-Middle East strategy.

The Iranian mullahs had clearly hoped that their rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad would provoke a military retaliation by Trump, which would force Biden to ease sanctions on Iran as a way of seeking peace and reconciliation with the mullahs. The beleaguered people of Iran and Iraq can only hope and pray that the Biden administration doesn’t fall for this ruse.

The opinion expressed do not necessarily reflect those of ITC

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