Iraq bids to de-escalate rising tensions between US and Iran

Premier says Iraq does not have the option of distancing itself from volatile situation

Iraq will send envoys to Washington and Tehran in a bid to "halt tension" threatening conflict between the US and Iran. Fearing war would devastate his country for the third time in 16 years, Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi warned of provocations from outsiders seeking conflict and said: "We will not allow Iraq to be a war zone or a launchpad for a war against any state."

He said de-escalation would “serve both the interests of Iraq and its people and those of the region”, adding that Iraq and European and Arab states were trying to calm the situation.

An unidentified Iraqi official said Baghdad was prepared to host US-Iranian talks. "The United States considers Iraq the only country able to bring the two countries together for negotiations," he said. The statement was confirmed by Washington's UN envoy, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who said Iraq could provide a space for regional reconciliation and dialogue.

Abdel-Mahdi pointed out that Iraq did not have the option of “distancing itself” from US-Iranian tensions as the country was allied to these bitter rivals.


Commenting on Sunday’s strike by a Katyusha rocket on Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, the location of government offices and embassies, the prime minister stressed the need to “avoid giving other parties the space to inflame the situation”.

Three Iraqi Shia paramilitary commanders who have fought against the US have warned against provocations that could spark conflict. Nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said any Iraqi faction seeking to drag Iraq into a US-Iran war “would be the enemy of the Iraqi people. A war would finish off Iraq.” His political party, which backs independence from the US and Iran, is the largest in parliament.

Qais al-Kazali, commander of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a powerful Iran-backed Shia militia, posted on Twitter that operations that “give pretexts for war [would] harm Iraq’s political, economic and security situation”.

Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iran-founded Badr organisation and its paramilitary wing, urged Iraqis to unite “to keep Iraq and the region away from war.If war breaks out, it will burn everyone”. He leads the second-largest parliamentary faction.

Dead and displaced

Since the US invaded Iraq in 2003, at least 288,000 Iraqis have died, four million out of 26 million have been displaced and a political and security vacuum has been created, leading to the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its toxic twins, Islamic State and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.

Washington's 5,200 troops and warplanes and Tehran's military advisers and allied militias combined forces to defeat Islamic State, which conquered 40 per cent of Iraq during 2014. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has declared Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country's national army, to be a "terrorist" organisation, although this term is usually applied to non-state actors.

Iran responded by branding as “terrorist” the Middle East-based US Central Command. This could put US troops in Iraq and bases elsewhere in the region in the line of fire if hostilities erupt between the US and Iran.

Even if Baghdad were to avoid military involvement in a US-Iran conflict, Iraq would suffer severe disruption and deprivation. Iran is Iraq’s largest trading partner. Iran provides Iraq with electricity, natural gas and refined petroleum products, food, cars and spare parts, air conditioners and medicine. US sanctions have not, so far, halted this commerce.

Iraq and Iran are Shia-majority countries, and their populations have religious and cultural ties. Iraq’s close political connection with Iran has been fostered, ironically, by the US-installed, Iran-allied Shia fundamentalist regime in Baghdad, which has tried to balance relations with the two countries.