Iraq to establish special force to protect Green Zone
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has taken new measures to protect foreign embassies in Baghdad's Green Zone, amid tensions with the US, after Washington threatened to close its embassy and withdraw its troops from the country due to ongoing rocket attacks.
Iraqi officials said that the prime minister would set up a special armed force to protect the diplomatic Green Zone and move out security forces currently stationed there.
Some militias outside of Iraqi government control have a presence in the Green Zone. The US blames Iran-aligned militias for rocket attacks on its Baghdad embassy and other facilities where US troops are present.
On Monday three Iraqi children and two women were killed in a rocket attack targeting Baghdad airport, where US forces are stationed.
A senior Iraqi military official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that Kadhimi had "received a request from diplomatic missions in the Green Zone to provide them with protection".
On Monday, Iraqi national security advisor Qasim Al-Ariji met with the US and British ambassadors to Iraq and the military official said that diplomats from several missions had provided Al-Ariji with information about potential attacks on their embassies in the next few days.
"These missions reminded the [Iraqi] government of their responsibility to protect them and said that they were waiting for a new government security policy. Otherwise, they would take a unified stand against the dangers facing them due to militia activity and the inability of the government to control it," the official said.
There are reports that Iran-backed groups are planning to launch an attack on the US embassy similar to the one which took place against the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi in 2012, where four American diplomats were killed.
"There are fears of a storming of the US embassy by armed groups, and this needs a response. There is now a heavy military presence in the [Green] Zone and at its entrances," the official added.
He said that he expected Major General Hamed Al-Zuhairi to be appointed commander of the new Green Zone protection force.
Eyewitnesses living in the Baghdad districts of Qadisiyah and Karrada near the Green Zone told The New Arab’s Arabic service that Iraqi helicopters had flown low throughout the early hours of Tuesday morning over the area. Mobile barricades had also been set up in the surrounding streets.
The Iraqi government was now punishing security forces who were lax in preventing rocket attacks, according to other reports.
Security force members in the Al-Jihad district of southern Baghdad, where the missiles targeting Baghdad Airport were launched from had reportedly been detained.
Several previously unheard-of-groups have claimed the attacks against US and other coalition forces in the past few months, calling themselves "Islamic resistance" against the "American occupier".
But experts say they are a smokescreen, and that they include former members of pro-Iranian factions of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitary alliance, an Iraqi state-sponsored network close to Tehran.
In January this year, the US assassinated Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in a missile strike near Baghdad Airport. While Iran has officially condemned the attacks on embassies, it has also vowed revenge against the US for his death.