Pompeo sends letter to Iran warning against attacking US and allied forces

Iran's apparent victory in the Syrian civil war has emboldened Tehran to become more aggressive in Iraq. The general in charge of Iraqi Shiite militias, Major General Qassem Soleimani,  warned the Kurds last month that they must give up the northern oil center of Kirkuk. He also indicated that he would attack US forces if they interfered.

That precipitated a letter to Soleimani and the Iranian leadership from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who says he warned the Revolutionary Guards general about Iran's increasingly threatening behavior in Iraq.

Reportedly, Soleimani refused to open the letter.

Reuters:

“What we were communicating to him in that letter was that we will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control,” Pompeo told the panel.

“We wanted to make sure he and the leadership in Iran understood that in a way that was crystal clear.”

Soleimani, who is the commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, refused to open the letter, according to Pompeo, who took over the CIA in January.

Iranian media earlier quoted Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying an unnamed CIA contact had tried to give a letter to Soleimani when he was in the Syrian town of Albu Kamal in November during the fighting against Islamic State.

“I will not take your letter nor read it and I have nothing to say to these people,” Golpayegani quoted Soleimani as saying, according to the semi-official news agency Fars.

Reuters reported in October that Soleimani had repeatedly warned Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq to withdraw from the oil city of Kirkuk or face an onslaught by Iraqi forces and allied Iranian-backed fighters, and had traveled to Iraq’s Kurdistan region to meet Kurdish leaders.

The presence of Soleimani on the frontlines highlights Tehran’s heavy sway over policy in Iraq, and comes as Shi‘ite Iran seeks to win a proxy war in the Middle East with its regional rival and U.S. ally, Sunni Saudi Arabia.

Pompeo told the forum that recent aggressive moves by Iran are a sign of Tehran's hegemonistic designs on the Middle East:

“You need to only look to the past few weeks and the efforts of the Iranians to exert influence now in Northern Iraq in addition to other places in Iraq to see that Iranian efforts to be the hegemonic power throughout the Middle East continues to increase,” Pompeo said.

The Shiite militias that played such an important role in recapturing Mosul and other Iraqi cities from ISIS are not under the command of the Iraqi government. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Revolutionary Guards and it's an open question where their loyalties lie.

The militias are an Iranian guarantee that the Iraqi government will show limited independence from Tehran. Those guns can easily be turned on them, which is why they've taken a hands off approach to the militias. They refused to cooperate with US forces and their alliance with the Iraqi army is tentative. 

Just recently, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Shiite militias "should go home." And French President Macron has said they should be disbanded.

But this is being seen by the Iraqi government as "interference" in its affairs. Macron called on the "Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), the name given to the tens of thousands of Shiite militia fighters, and other indpendent militias, to demobilize:

“It’s essential that there’s a gradual demilitarization, particularly of the PMU... and that all militias be gradually dismantled,” he said at a joint press conference in Paris with Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The KRG has accused the PMU of committing abuses against Kurds in Kirkuk and nearby disputed areas in the wake of their independence referendum in September.

Baghdad said Macron was interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs, and called for respect for the country’s sovereignty.

“Iraq’s internal affairs are run by constitutional institutions,” said government spokesman Saad Hadithi, adding that the PMU has “become part of the Iraqi security system.”

He said: “The sovereign powers of the federal government concerning the administration of Iraq-related issues and internal affairs must be respected.” He added: “Iraq looks forward to the world’s understanding of the importance of respecting its sovereignty.”

That may be, but the Shiite militias are not going to disband unless under orders from their masters in Tehran. They will prove to be very useful in threatening the Kurds and intimidating the Sunnis for the foreseeable future.

Iran's apparent victory in the Syrian civil war has emboldened Tehran to become more aggressive in Iraq. The general in charge of Iraqi Shiite militias, Major General Qassem Soleimani,  warned the Kurds last month that they must give up the northern oil center of Kirkuk. He also indicated that he would attack US forces if they interfered.

That precipitated a letter to Soleimani and the Iranian leadership from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who says he warned the Revolutionary Guards general about Iran's increasingly threatening behavior in Iraq.

Reportedly, Soleimani refused to open the letter.

Reuters:

“What we were communicating to him in that letter was that we will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control,” Pompeo told the panel.

“We wanted to make sure he and the leadership in Iran understood that in a way that was crystal clear.”

Soleimani, who is the commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, refused to open the letter, according to Pompeo, who took over the CIA in January.

Iranian media earlier quoted Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying an unnamed CIA contact had tried to give a letter to Soleimani when he was in the Syrian town of Albu Kamal in November during the fighting against Islamic State.

“I will not take your letter nor read it and I have nothing to say to these people,” Golpayegani quoted Soleimani as saying, according to the semi-official news agency Fars.

Reuters reported in October that Soleimani had repeatedly warned Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq to withdraw from the oil city of Kirkuk or face an onslaught by Iraqi forces and allied Iranian-backed fighters, and had traveled to Iraq’s Kurdistan region to meet Kurdish leaders.

The presence of Soleimani on the frontlines highlights Tehran’s heavy sway over policy in Iraq, and comes as Shi‘ite Iran seeks to win a proxy war in the Middle East with its regional rival and U.S. ally, Sunni Saudi Arabia.

Pompeo told the forum that recent aggressive moves by Iran are a sign of Tehran's hegemonistic designs on the Middle East:

“You need to only look to the past few weeks and the efforts of the Iranians to exert influence now in Northern Iraq in addition to other places in Iraq to see that Iranian efforts to be the hegemonic power throughout the Middle East continues to increase,” Pompeo said.

The Shiite militias that played such an important role in recapturing Mosul and other Iraqi cities from ISIS are not under the command of the Iraqi government. They are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Revolutionary Guards and it's an open question where their loyalties lie.

The militias are an Iranian guarantee that the Iraqi government will show limited independence from Tehran. Those guns can easily be turned on them, which is why they've taken a hands off approach to the militias. They refused to cooperate with US forces and their alliance with the Iraqi army is tentative. 

Just recently, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Shiite militias "should go home." And French President Macron has said they should be disbanded.

But this is being seen by the Iraqi government as "interference" in its affairs. Macron called on the "Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), the name given to the tens of thousands of Shiite militia fighters, and other indpendent militias, to demobilize:

“It’s essential that there’s a gradual demilitarization, particularly of the PMU... and that all militias be gradually dismantled,” he said at a joint press conference in Paris with Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The KRG has accused the PMU of committing abuses against Kurds in Kirkuk and nearby disputed areas in the wake of their independence referendum in September.

Baghdad said Macron was interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs, and called for respect for the country’s sovereignty.

“Iraq’s internal affairs are run by constitutional institutions,” said government spokesman Saad Hadithi, adding that the PMU has “become part of the Iraqi security system.”

He said: “The sovereign powers of the federal government concerning the administration of Iraq-related issues and internal affairs must be respected.” He added: “Iraq looks forward to the world’s understanding of the importance of respecting its sovereignty.”

That may be, but the Shiite militias are not going to disband unless under orders from their masters in Tehran. They will prove to be very useful in threatening the Kurds and intimidating the Sunnis for the foreseeable future.

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