31 December 2019   Leave a comment

Protesters broke into the US Embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq as Iranian-backed militias protested against the US strikes against Iranian militia positions in Syria and Iraq two days ago. The US strikes were in retaliation for militia ambushes which killed a US defense contractor and wounded 4 US soldiers. The Embassy protests raised memories of the US hostages which were held in the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran from 1979-80 as well as the attacks against the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. But tensions between the US and Iran have been rising ever since the US pulled out of the Iranian nuclear agreement and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018.

The responsibility for protecting Embassies falls on the host government (even though the land upon which the Embassy is built is considered the sovereign territory of the country represented). The Iraqi security forces did not prevent the protesters from entering the compound and the US brought in Apache helicopters to aid in the defense of the compound. The US has had a military agreement with Iraq ever since the US overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The agreement was modified to allow some US forces to remain in Iraq in the conflict with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But Iranian forces also joined in the fight against ISIS and those forces cooperated with US forces against that common enemy.

But now that ISIS has been deprived of a sustained territorial base in Syria, the differences between Iran and the US have returned to the fore. There are some Iraqis who are quite sympathetic to Iran and there are others who consider Iran to be an uninvited meddler. But there are few Iraqis who wish to see US troops stay in Iraq and there has been growing antipathy toward those forces. So the Iranians have a clear advantage in provoking actions against the American presence in Iraq. One must admit that the lack of support for the US is depressing since the US has had almost 17 years to build up solid support for its presence. But that opportunity has been squandered and Iraq seems to increasingly fragile despite US military and economic support.

I suspect that there will be more protests and the US will be confronted with a very difficult choice: to keep its representatives in Baghdad by intervening more decisively (a long-term loser) or to withdraw its Embassy staff to avoid a Benghazi scenario. There is no good alternative for the US and that summarizes current US Middle East policy.

Happy New Year!!!!!

And now sing “Auld Lang Syne”

Posted December 31, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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