Iraq is increasingly becoming a theater of conflict between the United States and Iran with deadly airstrikes on pro-Iranian militias just the latest example.
While the Iraqi government has condemned the airstrikes, a change of course is unlikely since the presence of the two sides is crucial to their respective foreign policy goals, analysts say.
U The U.S. Air Force carried out attacks last week on the facilities of pro-Iranian militias in the Syrian-Iraqi border region. Since then, militias have launched drone attacks on U.S. targets throughout Iraq.
Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, told Al Jazeera that the confrontation in Iraq between American and Iranian allied forces has intensified after the former Donald Trump administration lifted the nuclear deal. Iranian, formally known as and JCPOA.
“There has been a low-level conflict between the United States and Iran since the 1980s, but it has accelerated since the United States lifted sanctions on Iran in 2018 despite Iran’s respect for the Common Comprehensive Addition Plan, ”Zunes said.
Zunes said Iran could now hope to demand a price from the United States with a rise in attacks on Washington’s decision to effectively destroy the seven-nation agreement, while also inflicting severe economic damage on it. the country.
The targets hit by U.S. air raids had been used by a number of armed groups, including Kataib Hezbollah, the first militia in Iraq, operating under the direct command of Iran.
Kataib Hezbollah and other militias are calling for the deployment of remaining U.S. forces supporting the Iraqi army in the fight against the ISIL armed group (ISIS).
At least four Iraqi militants have been killed along the border with Syria, while no American troops have been injured. But the incident shows that the situation has become fragile and how the remaining 2,500 U.S. military personnel are increasingly at risk of attacks in the region.
Of course, the most effective means of ensuring the safety of U.S. service members will be to bring them home in the United States, Zunes argued.
“The Iraqi parliament voted last year for U.S. forces to leave the country, however [US President Joe] Biden refused to honor his request, “Zunes said.
With ISIL largely defeated, there are serious questions as to why the United States needs to keep 2,500 troops in Iraq, especially since its presence could provoke a major military confrontation with Iran, Zunes added.
However, Washington is in a precarious situation, as it appears to be the last line of defense against Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.
Already Tehran exerts a significant influence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, mainly made possible by the politics of Iran’s alliance, beginning as early as 1982, when Lebanon’s Hezbollah was established with the active help of the Revolutionary Guard.
By now, this alliance includes The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and armed groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In addition, militias from Pakistan and Afghanistan have been linked to the Quds Force of Iran (QF).
For the United States, Iran’s military power and asymmetric warfare amount to a geopolitical enigma. The protection of American troops has become a funicular act, and Biden has to maneuver with caution.
“Biden has shown himself ready to use force against militias backed by Iran, but he also acknowledges that threatening Iran or provoking war will play into the hands of the harsh Iranians,” Zunes said.
In the midst of the conflict is Iraq.
“The ongoing clashes are therefore also a reflection of how Iran and the United States are competing to assert their influence on the future direction of Iraq,” Zunes added.
Unsurprisingly, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has strongly condemned the recent U.S. airstrikes. They represented “a flagrant and unacceptable violation of Iraq’s national sovereignty and security,” the prime minister said in Baghdad, adding Iraq refused to use its territory “to pay the bills.”
However, his criticism failed to address the fact that Iraq has been unable to stop attacks on US interests by Kataib Hezbollah, who in the framework of the People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF) of the country, are essentially on the nomination of the government.
Due to devastating U.S. sanctions, the pandemic, and lower oil prices, Iran has been forced to decrease its financial support for militias across the region. As a result, the forces under the PMF umbrella have relies more on the finances of the Iraqi government.
Unable to stop either Iranian or American actions on its ground, Iraq now faces several challenges that could undo the progress made in recent years. Apart from, the upcoming elections adds another dynamic to the problem, Simon Mabon, a professor of international politics at the University of Lancaster, told Al Jazeera.
“Iraq’s slow election path exacerbates the increasingly precarious political, social and economic conditions that have fueled protests in recent years. Fundamental to this are conflicting views of the nature of Iraqi politics. and the role of religion – and Iran – in the political sphere, ”Mabon said.
A disaster in Iraq and the country’s leadership remains ubiquitous.
“While some groups are pushing for the des-sectarianization of Iraqi politics – the reinvention or removal of religion and religious actors from political life – others are strongly opposed to such processes,” Mabon said.
Frustration over Iranian influence and the actions of Iranian-backed militias, which have embarked, have sustained much of this anger. a systematic campaign of violence against those who oppose his vision, Mabon said.
“Pay a devastating price”
Iraq is therefore in the ungrateful position of being in the midst of US-Iranian tensions.
“With American strikes against structures in Iraq [and Syria], once again the Iraqis are caught up in a geopolitical struggle and are paying a devastating price, ”Mabon said.
In addition, the most recent airstrikes come at a time when international negotiations are underway for a possible return of the United States to the JCPOA.
The exacerbation of the conflict was therefore also about a broader political game between the United States and Iran both for the JCPOA and for efforts to recalibrate relations between Tehran and Washington, Mabon said, particularly with the new leadership. of the regime.
“At a time when the Islamic Republic has voted for a new president, this recalibration period is key to changing the future of relations between the two states and regional policy in general,” Mabon said.
Both parties are well aware that current developments could influence the JCPOA negotiations.
Zunes said, however, that the U.S.’s likelihood of leaving the negotiating table remains rather inconceivable, and that it would only happen if there was hope for further progress toward an agreement.
In the eyes of the Biden administration, Iran’s nuclear deal remains a signature piece of its foreign policy, and the primary goal of the JCPOA remains.
“Biden recognizes that the renewal of the agreement will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which is essential for the United States,” Zunes said.
While Biden, like virtually every American official, was undoubtedly hostile to the Iranian regime, he understands that it is in the best interest of the United States and the Middle East in general to return to the nuclear deal, Zunes concluded.