Middle east

US Only Interested in Controlling Iraq’s Oil, Exploiting Iraqis, Pro-Baghdad Militia Leader Says

Washington’s already tense relationship with the 82,000 troop-strong Popular Mobilization Forces militia coalition suffered a major blow in January, after PMU deputy commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was assassinated in Baghdad in a US drone strike alongside Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

The Trump administration’s only interest in Iraq is to loot the country’s oil riches and to exploit Iraqis, Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq political party and paramilitary group, has alleged.

“The United States simply intends to exploit the needs of our people to achieve its own goals,” al-Khazali said, speaking in a televised address on Friday.

“US President Donald Trump is thinking about how to control Iraq’s oil, and how to ensure that [US companies] come to control electricity contracts,” the militia leader added.

Al-Khazali urged Baghdad to instead move forward with the deal reached by the previous government in 2019 with Germany industrial giant Siemens to upgrade the country’s dilapidated power grid.

“Can the government not succumb to US pressure?” al-Khazali asked.

Last month, Washington praised plans for increased energy cooperation between the US, Iraq and the Gulf Cooperation Council Nations in a deal aimed at connecting Iraq’s electricity grid to that of the Gulf states.

The Iraq-Gulf state power deal was signed in 2019, with Baghdad expected to receive an initial supply of 500 megawatts of electricity daily, and as much as 2,000 megawatts per day after that. The agreement, originally meant to come into force this summer, has been delayed due to the coronavirus and the associated economic crisis gripping the region.

Iraq presently depends on Iran for much of its electricity needs, with up to 45 percent of its current wattage generated using imported Iranian natural gas, and a direct grid-to-grid connection providing 1,200-1,500 megawatts of juice to the country on a daily basis. The two countries signed a two-year electricity contract in June, with the deal extending the two countries’ cooperation until 2021. Cash-strapped Iraq is estimated to owe Iran nearly $1 billion in back payments for electricity imports, and has imported nearly 65 billion kilowatt hours of electricity from the Islamic Republic since 2005.  The Baghdad government is currently forced to request US sanctions waivers for Iranian energy supplies.

Iraq’s power grid, already weakened by wars and sanctions during Saddam Hussein’s rule, was further devastated in the aftermath of the US invasion in 2003 and the insurgency that followed in its wake. US, Turkish and Iranian companies have been involved in rebuilding the nation’s power sector, but it remains insufficient to handle growing power needs. The country’s power woes have led to mass shortages, accompanied by violent protests in some areas of the country.

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq is a member of the Baghdad-allied Popular Mobilization Forces, the mostly Shia militia coalition formed in 2014 to help the country’s government beat back and defeat Daesh (ISIS).* These groups, many of whose members fought an insurgency against the US-led coalition following the 2003 invasion, have an unfriendly attitude toward the continued US presence in Iraq in the aftermath of Daesh’s defeat, and have demanded that Washington withdraw its forces. Tensions between the PMF and the US escalated dramatically in January after Washington killed PMF deputy commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike. Since then, some PMF units have launched rocket attacks on US military bases and hit and run attacks on US supply convoys throughout the country, while pro-militia lawmakers in Iraq’s parliament have demanded that US forces leave the country immediately. Prime Minister Mustala al-Kadhimi is expected to visit the US at a later date to discuss the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.

* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.

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