Sunday April 11th, 2021 3:16PM

Iraqi PM grapples with militia threat as talks with US start

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s prime minister asked Iran's leaders to rein in Iran-backed militias in Iraq and in a strongly worded message to Tehran, suggested he would confront the factions, two Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi's statement came as the third round of strategic talks with Washington got under way, the first under President Joe Biden. The talks — held virtually because of the pandemic — began in June and are expected to center on an array of issues, including the presence of remaining U.S. combat forces in Iraq and Iran-backed groups acting outside of state authority.

Iraq had requested the latest round, partly in response to pressure from Shiite political factions and militias loyal to Iran that have lobbied for the remaining U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Participants include U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale.

Al-Kadhimi has walked a tightrope as he negotiates with the Americans while coming under growing pressure from local militias loyal to Tehran.

Last week, a convoy of heavily armed Shiite militiamen drove openly through central Baghdad, denouncing the U.S. presence and threatening to cut off al-Kadhimi’s ear, a display that clearly sought to undermine the premier.

Pressure has also come from cash-strapped Tehran as it seeks billions of dollars in payment for crucial gas and electricity supplies. Iraqi officials say the money is sitting idle in an account at the Trade Bank of Iraq because of U.S. restrictions and fears of sanctions.

In response to the ominous military-type parade by the militias, Kadhimi sent a strongly worded letter to Tehran, demanding Iran use its influence to halt these groups, two Iraqi officials said.

In the note, al-Kadhimi threatened to “announce clearly who backs these groups” and said he was willing to confront them, the officials said.

It was not immediately clear who the message was given to. The timing suggested al-Kadhimi, who has appeared powerless in confronting the militias, was looking to appease the Americans ahead of Wednesdays talks.

The message led to a two-day visit this week by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force chief Ismail Qaani to Baghdad, where he met with militia and Shiite political leaders and called for calm, according to a senior Iraqi Shiite politician.

The two Iraqi officials and the Shiite politician all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

U.S.-Iraq ties plummeted after a Washington-directed airstrike that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last year. At the time, outraged Shiite lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution to end U.S. troop presence in the country.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have said they support a scheduled withdrawal of forces from Iraq, but questions remain over time-frames and the scope of the threat posed by the Islamic State group. Iraq's Foreign Minister Fuad Hassan said in a statement during Wednesday's talks that Iraq still needs U.S. support related to training, arming and advising its military.

A group of Shiite militias on Wednesday issued a statement demanding that a scheduled withdrawal be set during the Iraq-U.S. talks.

A U.S. official last month said that the U.S. intended to use the meetings with Iraq to clarify that coalition forces remain in the country “at the invitation of the Iraqi government and solely for the purpose of training and advising Iraqi forces” and to ensure against an IS comeback.

Iraqis have often feel squeezed and pressured by both their allies, the U.S. and Iran.

In a positive sign, the Biden administration last month permitted a 120-day sanctions waiver for Iraq to continue importing energy from Iran, the maximum time frame allowed. Waiver renewals under former President Donald Trump were often for shorter periods and laden with conditions.

However, Iraqi officials say they require U.S. leniency to repay Tehran directly for the crucial energy imports, forgoing a complex payment system designed to evade U.S. sanctions over trading with Iran.

Iraq relies on Iranian supplies for a third of power needs, especially during peak summer months. Electricity cuts over payment issues resulted in violent protests in the southern province of Basra in the summer of 2018. As Iraq plans for nationwide parliamentary elections in October, the need to avoid unrest is high.

Currently, Iraq can pay Iran indirectly for the supplies in several ways. It can pay in humanitarian goods or medicines, cancel Iran's foreign debt, and foot bills such as Iranian Embassy expenses, the costs of Iranian companies operating in Iraq and those of Iranian pilgrimages to Shiite holy sites in Iraq.

But doling out these payments has been difficult, partly because U.S. conditions are so strict.

___ Kullab contributed reporting from Istanbul.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Business, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Tiger Woods was speeding before crashing SUV, sheriff says
Authorities say Tiger Woods was speeding when he crashed an SUV in Southern California less than two months ago, leaving the golf superstar seriously injured
1:37PM ( 10 minutes ago )
The Latest: Thailand has 1st case of Britain virus variant
Health officials in Thailand have confirmed the first local cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain
1:37PM ( 11 minutes ago )
Iraqi PM grapples with militia threat as talks with US start
A new round of strategic talks between the U.S. and Iraq is taking place virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic
1:36PM ( 12 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Los Angeles sheriff to reveal cause of Tiger Woods crash
The sheriff for Los Angeles County plans to announce what caused golf icon Tiger Woods to crash an SUV in Southern California earlier this year
12:58PM ( 50 minutes ago )
Lawyer: Russian opposition leader Navalny has spinal hernias
A lawyer for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has complained of serious back and leg pain in custody, says doctors have found him to be suffering from two spinal hernias
12:56PM ( 52 minutes ago )
Medic who shot 2 was assigned to medical research center
A Navy medic who shot and wounded two U.S. sailors before security forces shot and killed him at a nearby Army base had been assigned to a medical research center in Maryland for nearly two years
12:50PM ( 58 minutes ago )
AP National News
The Latest: CDC: Variant found in Britain most common in US
A variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain is now the most common strain of coronavirus circulating in the United States
11:17AM ( 2 hours ago )
EU agency: Rare clots possibly linked to AstraZeneca shot
The European Union drug regulator says that it found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and a rare clotting disorder
10:49AM ( 2 hours ago )
Challenges loom as Jordan papers over palace feud
Jordan’s insistence that its palace feud has been resolved and its sweeping ban on media coverage may temporarily quiet dissent
10:47AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Hackers, glitches mar France's mass return to online school
French children, parents and teachers battled with internet connection problems across the country after an abrupt nationwide switch back to online learning after seven months of in-person class
1:09PM ( 38 minutes ago )
Biden administration makes pitch for higher business taxes
The Biden administration is drilling down on the argument that higher corporate tax rates would ultimately help an ailing economy
12:59PM ( 49 minutes ago )
UK Deliveroo riders strike over pay, gig work conditions
Riders for the app-based meal delivery platform Deliveroo are holding a strike in London over pay and working conditions
12:59PM ( 49 minutes ago )
AP Business
Stocks waver in early trading, holding near record highs
Stocks wavered in morning trading and hovered near record highs as investors remain hopeful, but cautious about the economic recovery
10:16AM ( 3 hours ago )
Global stocks mostly rise after lackluster day on Wall St
Global shares are mostly higher as progress on coronavirus vaccinations countered worries over flaring outbreaks in many countries
5:44AM ( 8 hours ago )
Asian stocks mixed after lackluster day on Wall Street
Asian shares are mixed after Wall Street took a breather, with major indexes edging lower
3:20AM ( 10 hours ago )
AP Business - Economy
The Latest: Iran daily record hits 20,000 coronavirus cases
Iran has shattered its daily record for new coronavirus infections for the second consecutive day, with 20,954 cases reported
9:33AM ( 4 hours ago )
The Latest: Germany's Merkel backs short virus lockdown
A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel is supporting calls for a “short, uniform lockdown” as the country grapples with a rise in coronavirus cases
8:29AM ( 5 hours ago )
The Latest: European regulator to explain blood clot probe
The European Medicines Agency will announce the conclusions of its investigation into the possible connection between AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clots
6:50AM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
Stocks open lower, pulling the S&P 500 below record high
Stocks are opening lower on Wall Street, pulling major indexes slightly below the record highs they reached a day earlier
9:46AM ( 1 day ago )
Eating our lunch: Biden points to China in development push
Pushing for trillions of dollars in development spending, President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers are pointing to a booming, ambitious China they say is threatening to quickly overtake the United States in global clout and capacity
5:44PM ( 1 day ago )
Stocks close broadly higher following big job gains in March
Stocks closed broadly higher on Wall Street Monday as the economy showed more signs that it's continuing to recover
4:44PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Utilities
Tiger Woods was speeding before crashing SUV, sheriff says
Authorities say Tiger Woods was speeding when he crashed an SUV in Southern California less than two months ago, leaving the golf superstar seriously injured
1:37PM ( 11 minutes ago )
The Latest: Thailand has 1st case of Britain virus variant
Health officials in Thailand have confirmed the first local cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain
1:37PM ( 11 minutes ago )
Survey: Even as schools reopen, many students learn remotely
A new survey from the Biden administration finds that large numbers of students are not returning to the classroom even as more schools reopen for full-time, in-person learning
1:31PM ( 17 minutes ago )
EXPLAINER: Could mask hamper ex-officer's image with jurors?
The face mask that former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has been required to wear during his trial in George Floyd’s death has hidden his reaction to testimony
1:30PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Stocks wobble, hover near record highs in afternoon trading
Stocks wobbled between small gains and losses in afternoon trading on Wall Street Wednesday, hovering around their their record highs as investors remain cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery
1:24PM ( 23 minutes ago )