During a trip to Iraq by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (محمد جواد ظريف) on Sunday May 26, the Iranian met with Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amiri (هادي العامري). Amiri is also the head of the Fatah Alliance which has 48 of the 329 seats in Iraq's Parliament.
Zarif's visit comes as US and Iranian tensions have risen in recent weeks. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Iraq on May 7 and warned of Iranian threats. Zarif's visit is the highest level visit by an Iranian since President Hassan Rouhani was in Iraq for a multi-day trip in March. That visit was aimed at cementing an Iraq-Iran alliance. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi went to Iran in early April.
Iraq has sought to mediate between the US and Iran to avoid conflict breaking out in Iraq. While Abdul Mahdi has said the US and Iran do not want war in mid-May, President Barham Salih has warned the US against using Iraq to "watch" Iran, a notion US President Donald Trump suggested in December last year. But Iraq is in the center of US-Iran tensions. A rocket was fired near the US embassy on May 19. The US has taken the unprecedented step of reducing its diplomatic personnel in the country.
Washington has said that pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias have harassed US and Coalition forces in the past. These militias, members of the Popular Mobilization Forces who were formerly inducted into the security forces in January 2018, include the Badr Organization, Kata'ib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. Badr, among the most powerful, is closely linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and is led by Amiri. As such Amiri plays a key role not only as the leader of an armed paramilitary that helped fight ISIS and has opposed the US presence in Iraq in the past, but also as a politician in parliament. Zarif last met Amiri in Karbala in January.
On the May 26 trip Zarif met Amiri again, according to local websites. He met him after meetings with Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim. In the Hakim meeting the Iraqis had expressed support for Iran and Zarif said Tehran was prepared to defend itself against the US. Iraq says it stands with Iran like a brother and is opposed to US sanctions.
The Amiri meeting came in the context of a separate meeting Zarif also held with Ammar al-Hakim whose National Wisdom Movement has 19 seats in parliament. Zarif also reportedly met the speaker of parliament and Ayad Allawi.
What did Zarif and Amiri discuss?
According to numerous reports Zarif and Amiri discussed the tensions with the US. Many of these reports are based on Iraq's Al-Sumaria but others are based on Mehr News in Iran. Sumaria reported that Amiri was concerns about the escalating tensions with the US. "Zarif added that the Islamic Republic of Iran has fulfilled all its international obligations regarding the nuclear agreement, so it stands as a legal position to address the American arrogance in imposing the will on the peoples of the region."
Badr's role is key and Zarif met with Amiri because Iran views his role in Iraq as highly influential. Badr has in the past condemned the US after the IRGC was designated as a terrorist organization. Badr's Amiri has also expressed concern in recent weeks about the tensions. In addition Canada's Ambassador to Iraq Paul Gibbard met Amiri on the eve of the Zarif meeting and discussed their respective "priorities."
They discussed the "depth of the strategic relationship," and also the importance of reducing tensions, Rudaw reported. "We will do its utmost to end the tension and reach peaceful solutions to avoid the region's scourge of war," Amiri said. It was not clear how Iraq could mediate the crises. The meeting was widely reported in Arabic and also by Iranian media. Most reports were very short. Photos were also posted online. Azzaman news provided a longer Amiri quote. "Everyone who tries to ignite the war from Iraq is either ignorant or grounded because all the parties do not want war, neither does Iran want war, nor does the United States seek it," Amiri said.
Al-Etejah TV, which is linked to Kata'ib Hezbollah, said that Zarif felt the trip to Iraq was constructive. The US is sending 1,500 additional troops to the region amid the tensions. In addition reports indicate that blame for the rocket attack may fall on Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada or Kata'ib Imam Ali. Whether the US will act on this information is unclear. US Senator Marco Rubio had said on May 10 that an attack by Shi'ite militias in Iraq would be "considered no different than an attack by Iran." US officials have indicated a similar approach earlier this month.