Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s surprise visit to Baghdad this month came after US intelligence showed Iran-backed militias positioning rockets near bases housing US forces, according to two Iraqi security sources.
He told Iraq’s top brass to keep the militias, which are expanding their power in Iraq and now form part of its security apparatus, in check, the sources said. If not, the US would respond with force.
As tensions between Washington and Tehran increase, Iraq finds itself caught between neighboring Iran, whose regional influence has grown in recent years, and the United States.
“The message from the Americans was clear. They wanted guarantees that Iraq would stop those groups threatening US interests,” a senior Iraqi military source with knowledge of Pompeo’s trip said.
“They said if the US were attacked on Iraqi soil, it would take action to defend itself without coordinating with Baghdad.”
The US State Department declined to comment on the details of Pompeo’s discussions. He had said after the trip: “We don’t want anyone interfering in their country (Iraq), certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq.”
The second Iraqi security source said: “Communications intercepted by the Americans showed some militia groups redeployed to take up suspicious positions, which the Americans considered provocations.”
He said the Iraqis were told that any threat from the groups “would be dealt with directly by the Americans with force.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Tuesday told reporters that the Iraqi side had not observed “movements that constitute a threat to any side. We clarified that to the Americans – the government is doing its duty to protect all parties.”
Tensions between Washington and Tehran intensified early this month as US President Donald Trump’s administration stepped up sanctions pressure by ending waivers for some countries to purchase Iranian oil – part of efforts to roll back the Islamic Republic’s expanding regional clout.
It also said last week it was sending additional military forces to the Middle East.