The last six months of 2019 has seen an increase in the war in Iraq, with Iran-backed Shiite militias bombarding American military contractors as well as American troops. Following the sad news that one of our citizens has been killed, the United States has retaliated, launching five airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria that has seen 25 people dead and dozens more injured.
The attack has left the militia commanders promising revenge with Baghdad’s Green Zone seeing thousands of protestors marching through the strongly guarded area before breaking into the American Embassy’s compound – all the while chanting “Death to America” and “down, down USA.”
Riots erupted at the funeral of the 25 fighters of Iran backed Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq, resulting in the protests and the US Embassy being torched. Photos have since been released of the insides showing how much damage had been caused.
Although the protest and subsequent siege finished the next day – commanders of PMF asked their supporters to stand down, stating “you have delivered your message” – it appears to have sparked an increase in violence between Iran and America. Fortunately no American personnel were injured in the siege.
The actions have also led to a war of words between Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Trump with Trump announcing that Iran was “fully responsible” for the storming of the embassy. Trump also confirmed that Iran “will pay a very big price” for any loss of life as well as all the damages, stating “this is not a warning, this is a threat.”
However Iran has responded by claiming America “can’t do a damn thing.”
With President Trump announcing last year that he wanted to avoid any acts of war in the Middle East this action must go against all his policies. When Iran shot down an American drone in June Trump ordered a retaliatory airstrike, which he subsequently cancelled. However this time the airstrikes were approved, showing the world that any attacks on Americans working or serving in Iraq will not be acceptable.
However experts believe that the airstrikes will not serve as a “deterrent” as they believe that the militias were aiming for such a response.
American fighter bombers were targeting Kata’ib Hezbollah who is seen as the most dominant of the militias. Backed by Iran, the predominantly Shiite groups have been put together under the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to fight against ISIS. However Kata’ib Hezbollah, whose commander is considered one of the most powerful men, currently has over 5,000 troops as well as an undisclosed amount of civilian contractors who are training security forces in Iraq to prevent a jihadist comeback. Yet the militia are also working to send the American forces home, leaving Iran to keep their influence in Iraq.
It is also worth noting that Iraq has suffered months of demonstrations, mostly of a violent nature, which has led to the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s Prime Minister. The resignation has resulted in a major power struggle within the country.
Iran backed militias in Iraq have seemingly become one of the main targets of the demonstrations, due to their increased power, however it appears that Kata’ib Hezbollah have orchestrated a gamble to provoke America into airstrikes which would deflect any passion remaining in the country to be deflected towards anti-American anger.
However with Iraq now working without a full government they are also struggling to control the violence that keeps fluctuating throughout the country. Yet they now find themselves in a position where they are keen to keep public anger against America under control whilst still maintaining the American influence that counteracts Iran.
However Iran is also suffering thanks to economic sanctions imposed by the United States so it would seem logical that they would want to make costly retaliations to the recent American decision by Trump’s administration.
President Trump imposed strict sanctions on Iran shortly after they withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal so it can be difficult to see how Iran could be prevented from further attacks on our military both in Iraq as well as across the Middle East.
Arranging talks between Iran and America could be the first tentative step however unless there is a potential renegotiation on the nuclear deal or discussions on the conflicts in Syria or Yemen, tensions will continue to run high.
However Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal – as well as the subsequent portrayal of Iran as the main cause of tensions in the Middle East – could see Trump’s administration struggling to get any discussions going.
And with 750 American soldiers being deployed to the Middle East with a further 3,000 being prepared for potential deployments it seems that 2020 could be witness to further Iranian provocations ensuring the United States would be drawn into further battles with the country.