Soleimani successor visits Baghdad as Iran-US tensions rise
The leader of Iran's powerful overseas militia force visited Baghdad on Tuesday, as tensions with the US over Tehran-linked paramilitaries continue to rise.
Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani met Iraqi politicians in Baghdad on Tuesday regarding the formation of a new government, RT reported on Tuesday.
The visit also coincided with increased tensions between Tehran and Washington in Iraq over Tehran-linked paramilitary attacks on US forces and the deployment of more American hardware to the country.
Last week, US military sources told The New York Times that forces in Iraq were preparing an operation to "destroy" the Iran-backed Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq, who have been blamed for recent attacks on American troops.
The US could also extend the presence of a 3,000 strong rapid reaction force in Kuwait, which neighbours Iran, according to The Daily Beast on Monday.
"We hate that this was an unplanned deployment and that it’s impossible to have any certainty about when we will get home," a soldier from the unit told the website.
"Even if it's stupid and we have to deal with Iranian militias, it's part of the job. But we just hate the uncertainty."
Washington deployed Patriot missile batteries and radars to Erbil and Ain Al-Assad bases in northern Iraq this week, according to AFP, most likely to protect American troops from an increase in attacks by Iranian-linked militias.
Both sites were targeted by Iranian ballistic missiles in January after the US assassination of Ghani's predecessor, Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.
It is not clear if the Baghdad government agreed to Patriot missile deployment, but Iraq's parliament earlier this year called for the expulsion of US troops.
The US was invited by the Iraqi government in 2014 to help in the fight the Islamic State group. Since the defeat of IS, it has been at loggerheads with elements in the Iran-linked paramilitary umbrella, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).
There have been a number of attacks on Iraqi bases hosting US forces in recent weeks, including the 11 March rocket strike on the Taji base, which killed one British and two American soldiers.
A former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander on Tuesday warned the US about its presence in Iraq, in the latest rise in tensions between the two countries.
"America should leave Iraq otherwise Iraqis will kick them out," he tweeted.
Tehran claimed that the Baghdad government had not agreed to the deployment of Patriot missiles to the northern Iraq bases.
"[This runs] counter to the official position of the Iraqi government, parliament, and people," Iran's foreign ministry statement said in a statement.
The IRGC issued its own thinly-veiled threat against the US presence in Iraq.
"Even one little mistake by the evil and adventurous enemies at any point against the Islamic Republic of Iran will be their last mistake," the elite paramilitary force said.
Iran's government faces its own domestic issues due to its poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak, a crippled economy due to US sanctions, and uproar over the downing of an airliner in January.
The killing of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Hezbollah Brigades leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis on 3 January had brought the US and Iran close to war.
Tehran carried out limited retaliatory strikes against the US, but tensions between the two countries remain high.