Mike Pence trip to Iraq total disaster, failed to meet officials - Iran
Iran’s Fars News celebrated US Vice President Mike Pence’s inability to meet with high-level Iraqi officials on Sunday.
Pence focused on meeting officials in the autonomous Kurdistan region, and also flew to meet US soldiers at Ain al-Assad airbase. He spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi by phone and encouraged Iraq to respect peaceful protests and “disassociate itself with Iran.” Iran’s reply: US policy is in disarray, and is facing a total disaster in Iraq as it loses influence in Baghdad.
Pence’s trip was a surprise, but it had been in the works for months. Nevertheless, the president’s office in Baghdad says it wasn’t informed. Iraqi President Barham Salih met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Pompeo spoke with Salih again on October 15, where he said the US was committed to a “strong, sovereign and prosperous Iraq.” This is the usual US boilerplate “independent, sovereign, unified Iraq,” that Washington puts forward.
Iran knows the reality better. Leaked documents this month showed that Iran has penetrated the Iraqi government, and that Iranian intelligence officers brag to each other about which Iraqi politicians they control or work with. Reflecting Iran’s feelings of power over Iraq, the pro-government Fars News wrote that Pence had failed in his trip. “The remarkable part was whether Abdul Mahdi or any government officials,” would meet Pence. They did not.
Instead, Iran says that Pence met “US terrorist troops” in Anbar province. This is part of Iran’s overall worldview that claims the US supports terrorism. The Iraqi prime minister told Pence about the importance of “Iraqi sovereignty and independence, and the establishment of security and stability.” He also emphasized the importance of the “monopoly of arms,” an odd comment considering that Iraqi militias are accused of important grenade canisters used to kill protesters while the government claims it doesn’t know where the weapons come from.
Iran’s media reported that the US is concerned about the impact of Iran’s influence. “Despite the public statements,” the Al Akhbar newspaper reported, Pence’s trip illustrated the “cooling of relations between Washington and Baghdad, because the US sees Iraq as inclined to Iran.”
An Iraqi official was quoted by Fars News as saying US-Iraq relations had never been as bad as they are today. “The gap is increasing.” Fars News claimed that the US was angry Iraq has overcome its recent cries. In fact thirteen protesters were killed yesterday, but Iraqi officials and Iranian officials have blamed the US for the protests. They argue the US wants to weaken Iraq. “The US has resorted to other options in response to these issues. There are whispers of US pressure to oust Nineveh province’s Governor Mansour al-Murid and replace him with Najm al-Jabouri.” Murid was elected in May.
Fars News has a different theory about what the US is up to in Nineveh, a province that borders the Kurdistan region and includes Mosul and strategic areas near Syria. “The US is laying the groundwork in this area as part of the ‘Deal of the Century’ and to block Iran’s road to the Mediterranean.” That means that Nineveh is part of a vast conspiracy that is tied to US President Donald Trump’s policies in Israel, as well as an attempt to stop Iran trafficking weapons through. Pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Nineveh have been opposed by the US in the past, and they are accused of links with Iran’s IRGC.
Iran’s narrative seeks to portray the US as losing influence over Iraq and accuses the US of supporting instability and terrorism. In this narrative the government’s ability not to meet with Pence and to continue its close relations with Iran is a blow to US power in the region and a blow to the “Deal of the Century.”