By Edward Yeranian
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustapha al-Kadhimi appears to have come out on top in a battle with pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias allegedly responsible for recent rocket attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Arab media is reporting Saturday the alleged leader behind the attacks is being held by government forces, along with several accomplices.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustapha al-Kadhimi, accompanied by his top military advisers, has inspected parts of the capital, Baghdad, visiting several key security centers and taking selfies with ordinary citizens.
The prime minister’s impromptu inspections came amid a show-of-force with several pro-Iranian Shi’ite militia commanders, including Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asa’ib Ahl al Haq militia, over the arrest of a militia member accused of firing rockets at the U.S. Embassy compound.
Arab media broadcast a video of militiamen loyal to Khazali threatening Friday to resort to violence if the militia member accused of firing the missiles was not released by government forces. The man, Hossam Zerjawi, reportedly was arrested several days ago, along with several accomplices.
Asa’ib Ahl al Haq militia fighters staged a motorcade Friday night through parts of Baghdad, reportedly trying to threaten or intimidate Iraqi government forces into releasing their comrade, Zerjawi, allegedly being held by Iraqi intelligence forces.
Several prominent Shi’ite leaders reportedly sided with Prime Minister Kadhimi, prompting Asa’ib Ahl al Haq to remove its fighters from the streets of Baghdad. Pro-Iranian Shi’ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr said in a statement Saturday that he supports the prime minister.
A number of rocket attacks have been launched against targets inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone recently, including the U.S. Embassy compound. No Americans reportedly were hurt, although there were several Iraqi casualties from rockets that hit residential areas.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said last month that American forces inside Iraq would be drawn down to approximately 2,500 men by January 2021. Iraqi Prime Minister Khadhimi told Arab media the U.S. drawdown followed an agreement he made with President Donald Trump during his recent visit to Washington.
Former Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. Samir Sumaidaie told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that Iran “does not want to get into a conflict with the U.S. during the remaining days of the Trump Administration” and has urged its Iraqi allies to “avoid any provocation.”