With pro-Iran groups at the helm, Iraq runs the risk of becoming an outcast
BAGHDAD: The siege of the US embassy by pro-Iran protesters in Baghdad lasted just over a day, but analysts warn that it could have lasting implications for Iraq's complex security sector and diplomatic relations.
Baghdad had been struggling to maintain its precarious balance between its Tehran and Washington allies as tensions spiraled after the US withdrawal of the 2015 nuclear pact with Iran.
The regional rivalry was developing partly between the security forces of Iraq: the United States has trained army units and elite troops, while Iran has helped the Hashed al-Shaabi force.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Hashed supporters broke into high security and besieged the US embassy.
The ease with which they passed over the US-trained forces. UU. He demonstrated the dominance of the Hashed in Iraq, said Harith Hasan, an expert at the Carnegie Middle East Center.
A political-military faction imposed its will on all and seized all decisions, Hasan wrote.
As a result, he predicted, this new year will be the beginning of Iraq's shortage years and will lead to its isolation.
Founded in 2014, the Hashed is formally part of Iraq's government forces and its nominal head, Faleh al-Fayyadh, also serves as the country's national security advisor.
But the United States fears that the Shiite majority units of the network, many of which fought against US troops after the US-led invasion in 2003, will be used to exert Iran's influence.
Those tensions rose last week when an American contractor working in Iraq died in a rocket attack attributed to Kataeb. Hezbollah , a hardline and pro-Iran Hashed faction.
It was the last of a series of attacks against US troops and the embassy in Iraq that the United States attributed to loyal groups to Tehran.
A senior US defense official told AFP that the United States was frustrated because Iraqi troops were unable or unwilling to stop rocket attacks.
We are concerned that the Iraqi security infrastructure is compromised, the official said.
There is what we believe is a Hashed overcoming of the Iraqi security forces. So, sometimes our Iraqi partners say, what can we do? he added.
Both US and Iraqi officials told AFP they were especially alarmed to see Hashed units deployed in recent weeks within the Green Zone, home to government buildings, United Nations offices and key foreign embassies.
The clearest signal of Hashed's effective control over the area came during the attack on the embassy, when his supporters quickly passed through units trained by the United States to reach the embassy.
An Iraqi special forces fighter guarding the Green Zone said he had to let Hashed's supporters go by since he had no orders to intervene, and told AFP: Our hands are tied.
The Hashed is now the most influential of Iraq's forces because military and political leaders allow it to play this role, he said.
Among those who marched on Tuesday were the main figures of the Iraqi security apparatus: Fayyadh, his deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and the commanders of Hashed Qais al-Khazaali and Hadi al-Ameri.
His presence angered the Secretary of State of the United States. Mike Pompeo , who tweeted photographs of the four and criticized them as terrorists and Iranian representatives.
It marked an important change in the position of the United States towards, specifically, Fayyadh and Ameri, with whom the United States ambassador had met in recent months.
All this shows how much control Tehran has over Baghdad. There should be no illusion, said Phillip Smyth, an American specialist in Shiite armed groups.
The attack could even have repercussions on Iraq's diplomatic position, officials and analysts said.
The United States no longer wanted to invite Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to Washington because US officials saw him as too close to Iran.
The United States has also blacklisted a number of Iraqi political figures, Hashed units and even banks in recent months and has suggested that dozens more could be sanctioned.
Iraq is at risk of becoming an outcast state, isolated from the rest of the world like Venezuela, North Korea, etc., a senior Iraqi diplomat told AFP.
Tuesday's dramatic scenes at the embassy caused comparisons both with the 1979 hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran, and with the deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in the second city of Libya, Benghazi.
Isolation, diplomatic and economic sanctions, lack of trust, this is what has happened to the Iranian, Syrian and Libyan regimes, as well as the old Iraqi regime, said Iraqi expert Hisham al-Hashemi.
Things could change for Iraq just as they did for those countries.