Siege Leader of US Embassy in Baghdad Was Welcomed by The White House 8 Years Ago

Published January 2nd, 2020 - 11:59 GMT
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq and United States President Barack Obama (seated behind lamp) US President Barack Obama meets Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq at the Oval Office on December 12, 2011. Hadi al Amiri is seen behind the sofa, wearing a blue tie (Shutterstock)
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq and United States President Barack Obama (seated behind lamp) US President Barack Obama meets Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq at the Oval Office on December 12, 2011. Hadi al Amiri is seen behind the sofa, wearing a blue tie (Shutterstock)
Highlights
Amiri denied this, but told The New Yorker five years ago: 'I love Qassem Suleimani! ... He is my dearest friend.'

The leader of an Iran-backed US embassy siege in Baghdad was welcomed to the White House by Barack Obama eight years ago before becoming Tehran's 'point man' in Iraq.

Hadi al Amiri joined Iraq's then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as his Minister for Transport when he stood in the Oval Office in December 2011.

On Tuesday, he was outside the US embassy in Baghdad when it was breached and set alight by pro-Iran members of Kataeb Hezbollah, and other militia of Iraq's government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

As Commander of the Badr Corps, an Iranian vassal within the PMF, Amiri's men helped the US in their fight against ISIS in 2014 and 2015.

But a recent spate of missile attacks by the Kataeb Hezbollah branch of the PMF, climaxing last week when a US contractor was killed in an assault on a US base, has revealed that Washington's friends in the region can soon become enemies. 

President Donald Trump ordered USAF jets to decimate Kataeb Hezbollah bases and 25 were killed on Sunday night. Amiri joined thousands who flocked to funerals for the fighters in the Iraqi capital on Tuesday and then was among the crowds who rushed through the heavily fortified 'Green Zone' and stormed the US embassy.

Amiri, referred to as an 'Iranian proxy' by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on New Year's Eve, was the source of 'grave concern' to Republican lawmakers when he was invited into the Oval Office by Obama in 2011.

Amiri would have been well known to the CIA as the former commander of the Badr Corps, which received funding, training and arms from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), designated a terrorist group by Trump earlier this year.  

The transport minister until 2014, Amiri's guerrilla past fighting on Tehran's side during the vicious Iran-Iraq War remained clear even in the seemingly innocuous government position.

He was allegedly acting on the orders of the fearsome IRGC Major General Qasem Soleimani by allowing Iranian jets to fly weapons to the Syrian regime during Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on his own people. 

Amiri denied this, but told The New Yorker five years ago: 'I love Qassem Suleimani! ... He is my dearest friend.'

General James Mattis told the magazine that without allies like Amiri in the Iraqi government, Assad's government would have collapsed in the early years of the Syrian Civil War.

Amiri has since re-taken his role at the head of the Badr Corps, which was previously the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and which is made up of thousands of pro-Iranian former officers and soldiers who fled Saddam Hussein's reign. 

Louis J. Freech, FBI director under the Clinton administration and into the early months of Bush's administration, had been stunned by Obama allowing Amiri to step foot in the White House.

He condemned it at the time saying that Amiri, along with the IRGC, was engaged in 'countless acts of terrorism, which are acts of war against the United States.'

Freech also said he would 'love to sit down and talk to him (Amiri), show him photographs and ask him questions,' with regards to the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, which killed 19 USAF personnel in Saudi Arabia.

Iranians were not indicted for the attack and it was blamed on Saudi Hezbollah, another pro-Iran terror group.

Meanwhile Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, then-Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had told The Washington Times that it was 'extremely disturbing that the White House would see fit to welcome Al-Amiri to a discussion on the future of Iraq.'

'If anything, he should be subject to questioning by the FBI and other appropriate U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism agencies.

'The victims of Khobar Towers and the families of thousands of U.S. troops who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq deserve no less.' 

The Obama administration had downplayed Amiri's presence in Washington, pointing out meetings George W. Bush had held with unsavory Iraqis in the fight against Saddam, including the leader of the SCIRI Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim in 2006.

The US embassy siege by pro-Iran protesters, many from militia groups of the PMF, has highlighted the struggle for Iraq in balancing its allies in Tehran and Washington following the American withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear pact. 

The regional rivalry was partly playing out among Iraq's security forces: the US has trained army units and elite troops, while Iran has assisted the PMF (also known as Hashed al-Shaabi).

On Tuesday, hundreds of Hashed supporters stormed the high-security Green Zone and besieged the US embassy.

The ease with which they breezed past US-trained forces demonstrated the Hashed's dominance in Iraq, said Harith Hasan, an expert at the Carnegie Middle East Center.

'A political-military faction imposed its will on everyone and commandeered all decisions,' Hasan wrote.

As a result, he predicted, 'this new year will be the beginning of Iraq's lean years, leading to its isolation.' 

Founded in 2014, the PMF is formally part of Iraq's government forces and its nominal head, Faleh al-Fayyadh, also serves as the country's national security adviser.

But the US fears the network's Shiite-majority units - many of which fought American troops following the US-led invasion in 2003 - is being used to exert Iran's clout.

Those tensions boiled over last week when a US contractor working in Iraq was killed in a rocket attack blamed on Kataeb Hezbollah, a hardline and pro-Iran Hashed faction.

It was the latest in a string of attacks on American troops and the embassy in Iraq that the US has blamed on groups loyal to Tehran. 

oth US and Iraqi officials told AFP they were especially alarmed to see Hashed units deploy in recent weeks inside the Green Zone, home to government buildings, United Nations offices and key foreign embassies.

The clearest sign of the Hashed's effective control of the zone came during the embassy attack, when its backers breezed past US-trained units to reach the embassy. 

Tuesday's dramatic scenes at the embassy sparked comparisons with both the 1979 hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran, and the deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in Libya's second city Benghazi.

'Isolation, diplomatic and economic sanctions, the lack of trust - this is what has happened to the Iranian, Syrian and Libyan regimes as well as the old Iraqi regime,' said Iraqi expert Hisham al-Hashemi.

'The tables could turn for Iraq just like they turned for those countries.'

This article has been adapted from its original source.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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