22 May 2019   Leave a comment

The country that would be most seriously affected by a conflict between the US and Iran would be Iraq. Iranian militias and US troops are both stationed in the country and their close proximity makes the situation volatile. US troops and Iranian militias cooperated in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and against ISIS in Syria. Writing for the Middle East Institute, Randa Slim points out the danger:

“Iraqi officials are seriously concerned about the prospects of a military escalation on Iraqi soil. Decisions by the U.S. administration and ExxonMobil to withdraw staff from Iraq exacerbated apprehensions among Iraqi officials and the Iraqi public that there is a looming conflict for which Iraq will pay a heavy price. 

“While leaders of Iraqi pro-Iran militias publicly say they are interested in keeping Iraq outside the firing zone, privately they tell their interlocutors that if current tensions between the United States and Iran turn violent, they cannot guarantee they can stay out of the fight. During his May 7 visit to Baghdad, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked his Iraqi counterparts to convey warnings to Tehran about the consequences of targeting military assets in Iraq. Iraq’s foreign minister has now offered to act as a mediator between its two allies, the United States and Iran, with the aim of de-escalating the crisis.”

Michael Knights details the reports of tensions between Iranian militias and US troops in Iraq:

“The Pentagon calculates that Iranian-provided weapons killed at least 608 U.S. persons in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, including signature systems such as rockets, explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), improvised rocket-assisted munitions (IRAMs), rocket-propelled grenades, and large-caliber sniper rifles. These attacks abated after 2011, but Iranian-backed harassment later recommenced as tensions with Tehran increased under the Trump administration:

Lethal EFP attack on U.S. troops. On October 1, 2017, an American soldier was killed and another wounded by an EFP. A U.S. investigation concluded that the attack had been launched by an Iranian-backed militia after an American advise-and-assist mission expanded into Camp Speicher, a site that militia leaders wanted to exclude U.S. forces from.

Harassment of Basra consulate. The U.S. consulate in the energy hub of Basra closed on September 29, 2018, following two rounds of rocket fire on the complex that appeared to deliberately avoid causing damage or casualties. Previously, Iranian-backed militias threatened Iraqi locals who had been identified on social media as interacting with the consulate; fighters were also suspected of preparing to strike consulate vehicles as they drove around Basra.

Rocket attacks on Baghdad diplomatic facilities. In September 2018, the embassy complex suffered two rounds of apparent warning fire; as in Basra, the rockets seemed to miss deliberately.

Rocket attack after presidential visit. On December 27, 2018, two 107 mm rockets targeted the U.S. embassy complex a day after President Trump visited al-Asad Air Base in Anbar, causing no damage.

Foiled rocket attack on al-Asad. On February 2, 2019, Iraqi forces acting on U.S. intelligence foiled attackers who aimed to fire three 122 mm rockets at American facilities in Anbar.

Rocket attack on Qayyara Airfield West. On February 12, three 107 mm rockets were fired at U.S. facilities in Nineveh. Members of an unspecified Iranian-backed militia were arrested.

Rocket attack on Taji. On May 1, two 107 mm rockets were fired at the Taji military training complex, where U.S. personnel provide divisional headquarters-level training. Two members of the Iranian proxy group Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) were arrested.

Rocket fire on the International Zone. The May 19 attack involved a single rocket fired from a highway median close to the University of Technology in Baghdad. It landed in an open parade ground 1 km north of the U.S. embassy, strongly suggesting that it was intended to miss. The attack came right after a meeting in which President Barham Salih asked Iraq’s top leaders to pledge that they will renounce foreign influence and support the government’s invitation to coalition advisors.

The situation is far more dangerous than we suspect. The pressures on both sides are intense and there does not seem to be any willingness on either side to dampen the anxieties.

Posted May 22, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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