U.S. pressures Baghdad over Iran-backed militias

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s surprise visit to Baghdad this month came after U.S. intelligence showed Iran-backed Shi’ite militias positioning rockets near bases housing U.S. forces, according to two Iraqi security sources.

He told Iraq’s top brass to keep the militias, which are expanding their power in Iraq and now form part of its security apparatus, in check, the sources said. If not, the U.S. would respond with force.

As tensions between Washington and Tehran increase, Iraq finds itself caught between neighboring Iran, whose regional influence has grown in recent years, and the United States.

“The message from the Americans was clear. They wanted guarantees that Iraq would stop those groups threatening U.S. interests,” a senior Iraqi military source with knowledge of Pompeo’s trip said.

“They said if the U.S. were attacked on Iraqi soil, it would take action to defend itself without coordinating with Baghdad.”

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the details of Pompeo’s discussions. He had said after the trip: “We don’t want anyone interfering in their country (Iraq), certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq.”

The second Iraqi security source said: “Communications intercepted by the Americans showed some militia groups redeployed to take up suspicious positions, which the Americans considered provocations.”

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