Iran's allies in Iraq push for US troops' exit from Sunni regions ahead of elections

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Mar 15, 2018
Iran's allies in Iraq push for US troops' exit from Sunni regions ahead of elections

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-supported Iraqi militia group, has accused the US military forces of trying to rig Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections in Sunni regions, Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards reported. AAH Spokesman Naeem al-Abudi said the group is concerned that the American forces will not leave Sunni areas prior to the May 12 vote. “The constitution has the final say on the presence of foreign forces in the country. In a statement, we have openly and explicitly called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops, particularly American forces, from Iraq. The continued presence of these forces in Iraq in general and the Americans stationed in Sunni regions in the run-up to the parliamentary elections is extremely worrying,” Abudi said in an interview with an Iraqi outlet. He called on the Baghdad government to expedite the exit of US troops from the country prior to the parliamentary vote. 

Comment: As the fight against ISIS is reaching its twilight, Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq are gearing up for the parliamentary elections. Several Tehran-linked prominent Shiite groups within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) recently formed the Fatah Alliance to compete in the polls. Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Badr Organization, is head of the new coalition, which also includes Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and the Iraqi Hezbollah. Earlier this year, the Fatah Alliance formed a coalition with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, but the coalition abruptly fell apart over differences on the two sides' platforms and strong criticism from across the Iraqi political spectrum. 

The participation of Iran-backed militia leaders has provoked concern among Iraqi Sunnis who have been persecuted and marginalized by these sectarian groups in the past. Shiite nationalist leaders and civil society groups in Iraq are also alarmed. The Iraqi newspaper Al-Jarida recently wrote that the Amiri-led alliance is an Iranian effort to impose its will on Iraq. It added that the Badr Organization, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, and Harakat al-Nujaba "constitute the nucleus of the Mujahideen Alliance” – referring to the initial name of the coalition.

The Fatah Alliance has also tried to reach out to some Sunni communities in Iraq to broaden its base, but it has so far had little success. The allegations that the US military will manipulate the polls in favor of the Sunnis reflect their frustration. 

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and other Iranian-supported groups in Iraq have also dialed up propaganda against the Untied States, calling for an immediate exit of American troops and threatening violence. The Iraqi parliament recently demanded that the government set a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops stationed in the country. And if Iran’s allies manage to secure a dominant position in the next Iraqi parliament, they will, as in 2011, further increase pressure on the American forces to leave the country. 

Asaib Ahl al-Haq – or the League of the Righteous – is an Iraqi Shiite militant group fighting in Iraq and Syria. The group is funded by the Iran and reportedly has more than 10,000 fighters. According to the U.S. government accounts, the Lebanese Hezbollah upon a request by the Iranian government helped form and train AAH in 2005 to carry out attacks against the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. AAH started as a splinter group of the Mahdi Army, the powerful Shiite Iraqi paramilitary force led by Muqtada al-Sadr. AAH has been accused of killing American soldiers and committing human rights abuses against Iraqi Sunnis.