Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, speaks during a news conference in Basra, September 11, 2018. (AFP)

By Track Persia

December 13, 2021

New indications have revealed that the powerful Iran-allied Shiite militias and  Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force have witnessed a deep schism. This comes as Iraj Masjedi, a senior Ouds Force officer who now serves as Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad has reportedly asked Iran’s allies, mainly Shiite militias,  to accept the results of Iraq’s October elections and get on with it.

The Iranian ambassador to Iraq also emphasised the importance of a “thorough” investigation into the assassination attempt on the Iraqi prime minister in November. Speaking to Al-Alam news channel about Quds Force leader Esmail Qaani’s visit to Baghdad after the assassination attempt, Masjedi said that the visit was “to resolve the problems that have arisen for Iraq at this critical time.” He added that Qaani had called on everyone to maintain peace, cooperation and stability.

Qaani visited Baghdad to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi and other Iraqi officials. During his meetings, he stressed the need to “respect the election results and the law, according to Masjedi. “Naturally, in any election, it happens that some people protest, this is an issue we see across the world after elections, and it is the inalienable right of the protesters to have their protests dealt with within the framework of the law,” Masjedi said. “These protests must be addressed and the authorities must be held accountable for the legal process, and then the protesters must have the necessary cooperation so that the country does not face a crisis,” he added.

Masjedi’s statement seemed to have spurred an open criticism from Iran-backed militias in Iraq. On November 12, the member of Iran-backed AAH Amir al-Taee tweeted in Arabic and Farsi: “Iraj Masjedi forgot his role as an ambassador and started working as a messenger.” However, the post was later deleted.

The more stinging rebuke was posted on the same day by Sanad al-Hamdani, the manager of AAH’s al-Ahad TV, who tweeted: “[I have] a very perplexing question. Is Masjedi Iran’s ambassador to Iraq or [Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-] Kadhimi’s ambassador to Iran?”

Additionally, sources closed to Iran-backed militias in Iraq have revealed that some leaders of these militias also criticised Quds Force leader Esmail Qaani. For instance, several militia commanders have said that the leader of IRGC-Quds commander Ismail Qaani is not their commander but rather Qaani’s predecessor Quds commander Qasem Soleimani who was killed in a drone strike near Baghdad international airport back in January 2020 while he was secretly visiting Baghdad upon orders from the former American President Donald Trump.

The antagonist new stance of the pro-Iran militias towards the senior Iranian officials such as Qaani and Masjedi indicate that the Iraqi Shiite militias, in particular Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, have decided to escalate their violent actions if their political parties are marginalised in the new government formation process because of their poor performance in the general elections on October 10.

Having said that, the militias already staged their violent protests in Iraq’s capital Baghdad against the results of the elections. The violent protests turned violent when hundreds of protesters affiliated to the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella of mainly paramilitaries backed by Iran) took to the streets, rejecting the outcome of the parliamentary elections and storming Baghdad’s Green Zone, which includes government offices and the American embassy building.  The Iraqi health ministry said that dozens were injured when the protesters near the Green Zone clashed with the Iraq security and most of those injured were the Iraqi security.

The militias’ affiliated protesters reportedly held slogans that attacked the Iraqi government and the Iraqi electoral commission, claiming that the elections were rigged. The preliminary results have shown that the Hashd-affiliated political parties fared poorly. Most notably, the Fatih Alliance has emerged as one of the major losers, seeing its parliamentary seats reduced by two thirds.

While having not been successful in changing the results of the election to their favour using their baseless fraud allegations,  losers in the most notorious Iran-backed militias threatened Prime Minister Kadhimi. Their threat was reflected in the drone attack on Kadhimi’s residence in Baghdad’s most fortified  Green Zone.  The assassination attempt failed, however, Kadhimi and seven members of his security guards were injured.

The pro-Iran militias denied having any involvement in the assassination attempt though they mocked the incident. However, the drone attack against Prime Minster Khadhimi took place after some pro-Iran commanders and militias-affiliated protesters had threatened the prime minister.

In an attempt to distance his country from any involvement, the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad Masjedi said that the commander had emphasized “the importance of a technical and thorough investigation.”  He added that “Whoever was guilty should be tried according to the law and the Islamic Republic strongly supports this issue.” He pointed out that attacking a prime minister is not “a small issue” and that whoever committed such crimes “must be investigated.”

Some powerful Iran-linked militias did not like the statements from Iran’s senior diplomat in Iraq. Their response presented in integrating effort by launching protests against the government centre, attempting to draw security forces into harming protestors.

The powerful Iran-linked Asaib Al al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq launched energetic information operations effort to undermine Kadhimi and key Iraqi military figures while warning other militias leaders not to join a new government without them. Qais al-Khazali the leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia threatened Kadhimi personally by calling for legal action against him on November 5.

While denying any involvement in the assassination attack against Kadhimi, the pro-Iran militias in Iraq began developing a line of argument that portrayed the attacks as a false-flag operation. They claimed that Western intelligence agencies or Kadhimi’s team had faked a drone attack.

For his part, Abu Ali al-Askari, a leader in Kataib Hezbollah, posted a statement claiming that “no Iraqi would desire to expend a drone on the house of the former Prime Minister,” adding that if anyone did wish to do so, there would be “many less expensive ways to achieve that.”

The schism between the Iran-backed militias and seniors in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard comes as the formers have recently convened with other Shiite factions within what so-called the Coordination Framework which is chiefly consisting of Shiite factions that object to the vote results.

These critical voices include Hadi Al-Ameri, whose Fatah Alliance lost two-thirds of its seats in the elections, and the ascendant State of Law bloc headed by former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki (2006-14). Hikmah Movement leader Ammar Al-Hakim and ex-premier Haidar Al-Abadi (2014-18) are among other key members of the Coordination Framework.

Despite showing anger over the election result, the pro-Iran factions within the Coordination Framework want to legitimise the new Iraqi government by reaching a middle-ground agreement with the Sadrist movement which gained the highest number of seats (73) and has achieved a consensus on the next phase of the government formation process.

Most importantly, the dispute between the Shiite factions over the election results indicates that Tehran does not seem to enough exert pressure on their allies to unite and form a Shiite majority government it did in the post-invasion Iraq’s successive governments. Iran’s non-involvement stance on the current Iraqi elections indicates that Tehran has realised that it needs to focus more on protecting its interests by avoiding overly supporting its Iraqi allies which mainly consist of armed radical Shiite groups. It appears that Tehran sees that it will not serve its interests if it forces the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to back down from establishing a Shiite majority alliance to form a majority government.

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.