By Michael Knights, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Pushing Back on Iraqi Militias: Weighing U.S. Options

Although halting the escalation of militia attacks on American personnel is crucial, simply evacuating the Baghdad embassy and downscaling the bilateral relationship would allow Iran to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

On September 20, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly warned the Iraqi government that unchecked militia attacks could spur the United States to shutter its embassy and launch powerful strikes on Iran-backed militia leaders.

Since then, Iraqi officials and even some militia figures have scrambled to placate Washington, with various armed groups publicly distancing themselves from attacks on diplomatic facilities.

At the same time, however, the warning shocked an embattled Iraqi government that had served up some powerful blows against Iranian proxies in recent weeks, including the September 17 arrest of suspected militia financier Bahaa Abdul-Hussein, who controls a multi-billion-dollar e-payment service.

Click here to read the full article.

The post Pushing Back on Iraqi Militias: Weighing U.S. Options first appeared on Iraq Business News.

By Michael Knights, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Kadhimi’s Rolling Reshuffle (Part 2): Protecting Iraq’s Economic Institutions and Borders

On September 14, Baghdad announced a range of strategic leadership appointments for institutions tasked with overseeing Iraq’s economy, borders, and anti-corruption efforts-a list that includes banks, customs authorities, airports, seaports, land crossings, municipal bodies, investigative committees, and more.

The ambitious scope of the appointments and the centralized manner in which they were made says a great deal about Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s commitment to changing the corrosive status quo in Baghdad.

The question now is whether his government can withstand the coming pushback from militia and political elements who benefit from that status quo. The following is a digest of the new technocratic appointments and their implications; see Part 1 of this PolicyWatch for a discussion of Kadhimi’s recent military reshuffling.

Click here to read the full article, which includes details of the new appointments.

The post Details of PM’s New Appointments to Key Institutions first appeared on Iraq Business News.

By Michael Knights, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Kadhimi’s Rolling Reshuffle (Part 2): Protecting Iraq’s Economic Institutions and Borders

On September 14, Baghdad announced a range of strategic leadership appointments for institutions tasked with overseeing Iraq’s economy, borders, and anti-corruption efforts-a list that includes banks, customs authorities, airports, seaports, land crossings, municipal bodies, investigative committees, and more.

The ambitious scope of the appointments and the centralized manner in which they were made says a great deal about Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s commitment to changing the corrosive status quo in Baghdad.

The question now is whether his government can withstand the coming pushback from militia and political elements who benefit from that status quo. The following is a digest of the new technocratic appointments and their implications; see Part 1 of this PolicyWatch for a discussion of Kadhimi’s recent military reshuffling.

Click here to read the full article, which includes details of the new appointments.

The post Details of PM’s New Appointments to Key Institutions first appeared on Iraq Business News.

By Michael Knights, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi led a large cabinet delegation to Washington D.C. for new sessions of the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue, topped off by the first Iraqi prime ministerial visit to the White House in over three years.

During the visit, I spoke to most of the Iraqi delegation, including one-to-one dialogue with Prime Minister Kadhimi. In my questions to many of the Iraqi leaders, I did not limit myself to the usual eliciting of future plans and predictions, which Iraqis in any case tend to dodge, recognizing that they can neither plan nor predict with confidence.

I focused on how the leaders were feeling, what their professional and personal lives were like, and what they needed from the United States and other players.

Click here to read the full article.

The post Inside the Kadhimi Visit to Washington DC first appeared on Iraq Business News.

By Michael Knights, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

On July 6, 2020, Iraq’s most prolific security commentator Husham al-Hashemi was assassinated in Zayouna, a social melting pot neighborhood of east Baghdad.

At 8:19 pm, he arrived outside his home, driving his own unarmored white SUV. Seconds before, two motorbikes pulled up, each carrying two young men.

They knew that he was coming and they knew where he would park his car.

Click here to read the full article.

By Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Honored, Not Contained: The Future of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces

Hastily raised when the Islamic State was knocking at the gates of Baghdad, the state-backed Iraqi militia network al-Hashd al-Shabi has swollen into a 160,000-strong armed force with an annual budget exceeding $2 billion.

But more than five years after its formation, the Hashd — also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces — still lacks defined roles and has largely fallen under the sway of Kataib Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed factions. Now that Iranian Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis are no longer on the scene, observers are asking what comes next for the Hashd.

In this highly detailed Policy Focus, meant as a primer for Iraqi and international agencies, analysts Michael Knights, Hamdi Malik, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi lay out the PMF’s current status, offering a novel look at its functions, structure, and activities as a military institution.

The study identifies achievable security-sector reforms while exploring longer-term options around which consensus must first be built. Although demobilization is not a realistic goal in the near term, Iraq and its partners can take practical steps to honor Hashd units for their sacrifices while also containing them in the interests of national sovereignty and stability.

Full 236-page report here.

By Azhar Al-Rubaie, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Despite Political Turmoil and Coronavirus, Iraq’s Protest Movement Continues

With neighboring Iran one of the most severely affected areas of coronavirus, Iraqi authorities are also confirming rising infections and deaths despite closing the border between the two states.

However, Iraqi protestors maintain that “oppression and fear are more dangerous than coronavirus,” and have consistently demonstrated a will to continue what has become known as the October 2019 revolution.

Full report here.

By Michael Knights, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Giving Iraq’s Next Prime Minister Space to Succeed

As the next well-qualified, Iraqi-chosen candidate navigates the delicate ratification process, Washington can avoid disrupting his efforts by temporarily ignoring militia provocations and providing quiet, symbolic support where needed.

Full report here.

By Eric Bordenkircher, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Pivoting to the KRG: Restructuring the U.S. Military Presence in Iraq

Since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, a defining element of American policy has been the importance of the political and territorial integrity of the Iraqi state.

In light of the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani, subsequent retaliation from Iran, and continued violence in Iraq—most recently manifesting in an unclaimed attack against the U.S. embassy—the U.S. government must now reconsider the viability of its current policy towards Iraq.

Full report here.

By David Pollock, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Eight Reasons Why the United States and Iraq Still Need Each Other

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani has brought the tensions in U.S.-Iraqi relations to a boil, with militia factions strong-arming a parliamentary resolution on American troop withdrawal and various European allies contemplating departures of their own.

Before they sign the divorce papers, however, officials in Baghdad and Washington should consider the many reasons why staying together is best for both them and the Middle East.

Full report here.