Iranian militias in Iraq told to prepare for proxy war
Iran’s most prominent military leader has recently met Iraqi militias in Baghdad and told them to “prepare for proxy war”, the Guardian has learned.
Two senior intelligence sources said that Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s powerful Quds force, summoned the militias under Tehran’s influence three weeks ago, amid a heightened state of tension in the region. The move to mobilise Iran’s regional allies is understood to have triggered fears in the US that Washington’s interests in the Middle East are facing a pressing threat. The UK raised its threat levels for British troops in Iraq on Thursday.
While Suleimani has met regularly with leaders of Iraq’s myriad Shia groups over the past five years, 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 spectre of clashes between Tehran and Washington and who now fear that Iraq could become an arena for conflict.
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. It also coincided with a perceived separate risk to US interests and those of its allies in the Persian Gulf and led to a heightened threat that more than a decade of proxy conflicts may spill over into a direct clash between Washington and Tehran.
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