Iraq reforms stymied by shadowy groups’ wave of attacks

BAGHDAD (AFP) – War-scarred Iraq hopes to launch reforms and revive its battered economy, but the drive is being derailed by a wave of violence blamed largely on shadowy groups.

Since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi took office in May, he has promised to rein in rogue militias, fight corruption and roll out long-awaited restructuring after years of war and insurgency.

But the closer his government gets to its stated aims, the more armed actors with suspected links to Washington’s arch enemy Tehran are lashing out, top Iraqi officials and analysts told AFP.

“Every time these groups see us getting close to their military or economic interests, they either launch rockets or propaganda campaigns to distract us,” said one senior government official.

Violence was already rising before Kadhemi travelled to Washington last month to meet United States (US) President Donald Trump, who was expected to announce further troop withdrawals from Iraq.

But the situation has only destabilised further.

Late Tuesday, a bomb hit a supply convoy heading to an Iraqi base where US troops are deployed, killing one member of the Iraqi security forces.

On September 3, an attack targetted the Baghdad headquarters of British-American security company G4S. One intelligence official told AFP a drone had dropped an explosive charge on the building.

No faction claimed responsibility, but Tehran-backed groups had accused G4S of complicity in January’s US drone strike that killed Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.

Days earlier, a United Nations (UN) worker was wounded when an improvised explosive device detonated underneath an aid convoy in the northern city of Mosul.

A faction identifying itself as part of the “resistance” – a catch-all phrase for pro-Iran factions – took responsibility, accusing the UN of using its convoys to transport American spies. “Your vehicles will burn in the streets of Iraq,” it threatened online.

A half-dozen previously unheard-of such factions have made similar threats in recent months under the “resistance” banner, but officials said they are a smokescreen.

“Five groups, including Kataeb Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and others, are behind the recent instability across the country,” an Iraqi intelligence officer said.