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A look at the Iraqi government’s relationship with armed groups that are clashing with US forces

A look at the Iraqi government’s relationship with armed groups that are clashing with US forces

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A look at the Iraqi government's relationship with armed groups that are clashing with US forces

 A U.S. strike in Baghdad that killed a commander of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group this week highlighted the ambiguous status of the country’s Iran-allied armed factions. Some operate simultaneously as a part of the official security forces and outside of state control.

That has put the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani in an increasingly delicate position as it attempts to balance between its relations with the United States and with Iraqi armed groups that are sometimes in direct conflict with U.S. forces.

Here’s a look at the complicated relationship between Iraq, paramilitary groups such as Kataib Hezbollah and the United States:

WHAT IS KATAIB HEZBOLLAH?

Kataib Hezbollah is one of the most powerful armed groups in Iraq. It was formed during the power vacuum that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, with support from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

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The Iraqi faction is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces. The PMF is a coalition of primarily Shiite, Iran-backed armed groups that joined in the fight against the Islamic State group after it seized large sections of Iraq in 2014.

The PMF became allies of convenience with forces from a U.S.-led international coalition fighting IS.

However, Kataib Hezbollah and some other groups that are part of the PMF also have attacked U.S. forces in Iraq.

The U.S. has designated Kataib Hezbollah as a terrorist group. In January 2020, a U.S. airstrike killed the group’s founder, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Wednesday’s strike killed Wissam Muhammad Sabir al-Saadi, known as Abu Baqir al-Saadi, who was in charge of Kataib Hezbollah’s operations in Syria. The U.S. has said he was responsible for “directly planning and participating in attacks” on American troops.

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WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE PARAMILITARY GROUPS AND THE IRAQI STATE?

In 2016, the Iraqi government designated the Popular Mobilization Forces as an “independent military formation” within the Iraqi armed forces.

However, some of the groups that make up the PMF are also part of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which has launched around 170 strikes against bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria over the past four months. The group has said it is retaliating for Washington’s support of Israel in the ongoing war in Gaza and aims to push U.S. troops out of the region.

The Iraqi government has condemned the strikes on U.S. forces while also in many cases condemning the U.S. response, particularly when it has conducted strikes in the capital or hit PMF factions that did not have a clear role in the attacks on U.S. forces.

Renad Mansour, a senior research fellow at the Chatham House, said the PMF is effectively an arm of the Iraqi government. “They view themselves as protecting the state,” whether by fighting against IS or by cracking down on anti-government protesters, he said.

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Lahib Higel, a senior analyst for Iraq at the International Crisis Group, said some of the armed groups in the PMF have a dual role.

“They have a day job, which is their work in the (PMF). And they have another role, which is that they conduct these resistance operations against the U.S. presence,” she said. 

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

The US Coast Guard and Kiribati police boarded two Chinese fishing boats during a patrol against illegal fishing in the Pacific Islands nation’s vast exclusive economic zone this month but found no issues aboard, a coast guard official said.

The United States is seeking a bigger role for its coast guard in helping remote Pacific Islands nations monitor millions of kilometres of ocean – a rich tuna fishing ground – a move that also boosts surveillance as a rivalry with China over security ties in the region intensifies.

Reuters reported on Friday that Chinese police are working in Kiribati, with uniformed officers involved in community policing and a crime database program.

Kiribati, a nation of 115,000 residents, is considered strategic despite being small, as it is relatively close to Hawaii and controls a 3.5 million square kilometre (1.35 million square mile) exclusive economic zone. It is also host to a Japanese satellite tracking station.

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Washington has flagged plans to build an embassy in Kiribati to compete with China, but has not yet done so.

Kiribati police officers were on patrol with the US Coast Guard as “ship riders” for the first time in almost a decade, between Feb. 11-16, a US Coast Guard Guam spokeswoman said.

“The two People’s Republic of China (PRC) flagged fishing vessels were boarded as part of routine maritime law enforcement activities to ensure compliance with regulations within the Kiribati Exclusive Economic Zone,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed comments.

No concerns were reported during the boardings, she said.

“Both Kiribati officers from the Kiribati Police Maritime Unit and US Coast Guard officers were involved in the boarding operations. This collaboration underscores the partnership between the two nations in upholding maritime law and good governance,” she added.

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The Kiribati president’s office and Chinese embassy did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritiera, told Reuters last week that Chinese police on the island work with local police.

China built a large embassy on the main island, Tarawa, after Kiribati switched ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. 

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Russia launched 14 attack drones and a barrage of missiles at Ukraine overnight, with air defence systems destroying nine drones as well as three guided missiles over the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, Ukraine’s air force said on Monday.

Russia also launched two S-300 missiles from anti-aircraft missile systems and one air-to-surface Kh-31P missile, the air force said on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not clear what happened to the missiles and drones that were not downed. 

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Tuvalu on Monday announced former attorney general and fisheries official Feleti Teo as its new prime minister, after he was elected unopposed by lawmakers in the Pacific Islands nation, officials said.

Former Prime Minister Kausea Natano lost his seat in a general election on Jan. 26 closely watched by Taiwan, China, the US and Australia, amid a geopolitical tussle for influence in the South Pacific.

Tuvalu, with a population of about 11,200 spread across nine islands, is one of three remaining Pacific allies of Taiwan, after Nauru cut ties last month and switched to Beijing, which had promised more development help.

Teo received unanimous support from the 16 lawmakers, two lawmakers told Reuters on Monday.

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Teo, who was educated in New Zealand and Australia, was Tuvalu’s first attorney general. He has decades of experience as a senior official in the regional fisheries organisation and has worked with the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s major political and economic group. Fishing is a major source of revenue in the Pacific islands.

“Feleti Teo was declared by the Governor General as Prime Minister for Tuvalu,” Tuvalu’s government secretary, Tufoua Panapa, said in an emailed statement.

Tuvalu lawmaker Simon Kofe congratulated Teo in a social media post.

“It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister has been nominated unopposed,” he said.

The election result in Tuvalu had been delayed by a month as dangerous weather stopped boats from bringing new lawmakers to the capital to vote for prime minister, highlighting why climate change is the top political issue in the Pacific Islands nation.

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Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Tuvalu, Andrew Lin, expressed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulations to Teo, adding that deputy foreign minister Tien Chung-kwang will visit Tuvalu in the near future.

Teo is a friend of Taiwan’s and has visited many times, and has said relations are stable and that maintaining ties is the widespread consensus in Tuvalu, the ministry added.

Taiwan previously said it was paying close attention to the election after Tuvalu’s finance minister in the previous government, Seve Paeniu, said the issue of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China should be debated by the new government.

There had also been calls by some lawmakers to review a wide-ranging deal signed with Australia in November, that allows Canberra to vet Tuvalu’s police, port and telecommunication cooperation with other nations, in return for a defence guarantee and allowing citizens threatened by rising seas to migrate.

The deal was seen as an effort to curb China’s rising influence as an infrastructure provider in the Pacific Islands.

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Teo’s position on Taiwan ties, and the Australian security and migration pact, have not been made public.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on social media he looked forward to working with Teo.

“Australia deeply values our relationship with Tuvalu, in the spirit of the Falepili Union,” he wrote, referring to the migration pact.

Tuvalu’s ministry would be announced at an oath taking ceremony for the new government later this week, Panapa said.

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