Nov 16, 2022 - World

U.S. tells Iraq it won't work with officials linked to terror groups

Supporters of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and Hezbollah Brigades groups rally in Baghdad, Iraq on Dec. 31, 2021. Photo: Ameer Al Mohammedaw/picture alliance via Getty Images

Supporters of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and Hezbollah Brigades rally in Baghdad on Dec. 31, 2021. Photo: Ameer Al Mohammedaw/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Biden administration has made it clear to Iraq's new prime minister that it will not work with ministers and senior officials who are affiliated with Shiite militias the U.S. has designated as terrorist organizations, two sources briefed on the issue told me.

Why it matters: Mohammed Shia al-Sudani became the prime minister after he was endorsed by the pro-Iranian factions in the Iraqi parliament, known as the Coordination Framework. These factions include some Shiite militias on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

  • Still, the U.S. plans to largely work with and give the new Iraqi government and al-Sudani a chance, as Axios recently reported.
  • Iraq is a key partner for the Biden administration in the region, with many U.S. security and economic interests that need to be preserved.

State of play: The Biden administration has already decided it will not work with the minister of higher education, Naim al-Aboudi, who is a member of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), a Shiite militia that is funded by Iran and was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the two sources said. 

  • The U.S. is also concerned about Rabee Nader, who was appointed to head the Iraqi prime minister's press office. Nader worked in the past for media outlets affiliated AAH and with the Kata’ib Hezbollah — a Shiite militia designated by the U.S. as a terror group.

Behind the scenes: U.S. ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski has met with al-Sudani five times since he took office less than three weeks ago, according to the two sources.

  • The sources said Romanowski told al-Sudani the U.S. policy regarding engagement with government ministers and officials who are connected to militias. The same message was conveyed to the Iraqi government by other Biden administration officials.
  • The White House declined to comment on diplomatic engagements with the Iraqi government.

The big picture: The Biden administration is satisfied by the constructive engagement with al-Sudani it has seen so far, the sources said, adding that the U.S. will judge the new prime minister's independence from Iranian influence by his actions.

What to watch: The Biden administration is concerned al-Sudani won't have enough control over the Shiite militias, the sources said.

  • If the militias increase attacks against U.S. forces in the country, it could change the Biden administration’s policy toward the Iraqi government, the sources added.
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