Right from the beginning of his tenure in early May, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was aware of the danger that Iran-backed militias pose to the country’s stability and security, a report made by Arab Weekly reported.
This awareness, however, grew following a series of intercepted phone calls that made the Iraqi premier fully realise how few friends he had.
During one call, a senior Iraqi leader with strong ties to Iran instructed the security chief for Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which hosts government buildings and foreign embassies, not to stand in the way of militiamen who were storming the area, two Iraqi security officials said.
The militiamen were angry at the arrest of comrades accused of firing anti-US rockets. During the hours-long standoff, the militia detained several members of a US-trained counter-terrorism force, according to the security officials and two militia sources.
On the June 25 call, the leader with ties to Iran warned the Green Zone security chief, Shihab al-Khiqani, that a clash would open the gates of hell between the militias and the forces guarding the area, according to one of the security officials, who viewed a transcript of the call.
The second security official and the two militia sources corroborated that call and said Khiqani was told by militia commanders in other phone conversations that night to avoid any standoff with the paramilitaries.
Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief and US ally who had been in the Green Zone that night, learned of the conversations around a week later, after launching an investigation into the events, the two security officials said. They said it shook him, serving as a stark lesson about his enemies in power.
Kadhimi fired Khiqani immediately after the investigation and embarked on a wide-ranging purge of top state security posts that he presses on with – now under renewed US pressure.
The communications intercepted by Iraqi security services on the night of June 25 brought home the stark reality for Kadhimi that despite being backed by Washington, he could not even trust Iraqi government forces to stop Iran-backed militias running rampant outside his offices.
It set the tone for his premiership, which has been marked by attempts to exert control over a fractious Iraqi state while placating both an unpredictable White House and the anti-US, Iran-aligned groups that want him to fail.
Kadhimi took office in May, becoming Iraq’s third prime minister-designate in 10 weeks.
A key part of his policy has been to reduce the stranglehold Iran-backed militias have developed on large parts of Iraq’s security forces since the US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
However, Kadhimi is operating in a complicated political reality that limits his ability to make changes, say security officials, militia leaders, senior politicians and Western diplomats.
They say Kadhimi’s approach might work but question whether his interim cabinet can make a difference before a general election expected as early as June.