CAIRO – 17 May 2019: Iran’s most prominent military leader has recently met Iraqi militias in Baghdad and told them to “prepare for proxy war”.
A report published by The Guardian on Friday revealed that two senior intelligence sources said Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, summoned the militias under Tehran’s influence three weeks ago, amid a heightened state of tension in the region.
Suleimani has met regularly with leaders of Iraq’s Iranian militia groups over the past five years, however, this time, the nature and tone of this gathering was different. “It wasn’t quite a call to arms, but it wasn’t far off,” one source said.
The meeting has led to a frenzy of diplomatic activity between US, British and Iraqi officials who are trying to banish the spectra of clashes between Tehran and Washington.
Fears are rising that Iraq might become a conflict zone.
The gathering partly informed a US decision to evacuate non-essential diplomatic staff from the US embassy in Baghdad and Erbil and to raise the threat status at US bases in Iraq.
The USS Abraham Lincoln, recently dispatched to the Gulf. Photograph: ONOSPHG/AP
Over the past 15 years, Suleimani has been Iran’s most influential powerbroker in Iraq and Syria, leading Tehran’s efforts to consolidate its presence in both countries and trying to reshape the region in its favor.
The US has become increasingly vocal about the activities of Iranian proxies in the Middle East.
On Sunday, four ships – two of them Saudi oil tankers – were reportedly sabotaged off the UAE coast. The following day, drones launched by Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen attacked two Saudi pipelines. Saudi state media on Thursday called for “surgical strikes” against Iranian targets in response and its senior officials have told Washington that they expect it to act in its interests.