1 April 2020   Leave a comment

the New York Times is reporting that there is serious discussion within the Trump Administration for taking stronger actions to confront Iranian backed militias in Iraq. Since the US assassinated Iranian General Qassim Soleimani last January, the US and Iran have been engaged in tit-for-tat actions in Iraq, despite the Iraqi protests against being a battlefield between the two antagonists. The recent discussions in the US government suggest a dramatic escalation of that tension. The article points out the relationship between Iraq and Iran:

“Beyond that, it would most likely put the Iraqi leadership and especially its military in the position of having to choose between its American allies — whose leaders are far away — and the Iranians, whom many senior Iraqis do not like but believe they have to live with because they are neighbors.

“’Iraq cannot be a victim of the Iranian-U.S. conflict, because that would end up going in favor of Iran,’ said Karim al-Nuri, a senior figure in the Badr Organization, an Iranian-backed militia, meaning that it would force Iraq closer to Iran.

“Iran has long used Shiite militia groups in Iraq as proxy forces both to battle American and Iraqi troops and to exert political influence inside the government. Like Lebanese Hezbollah, Kataib Hezbollah has both military components and political operations, and links to Iraq politicians, businesses, charities and a web of other networks, several regional specialists said.

“‘It’s like a shadow state,’ said Michael Knights, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who has studied the group for more than a decade.

“As a result, carrying out any large-scale plan to destroy Kataib Hezbollah poses huge political and security risks for the Trump administration, and practical challenges for the military.’

The shift in US tactics seems to be spearheaded by Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Adviser O’Brien. The report suggests that Defense Secretary Espey was initially opposed, but has changed his position. The New York Times catalogs the changes in the US arsenal on the ground in Iraq:

“Any campaign against Kataib Hezbollah is likely to draw from the roughly 70,000 American military personnel currently deployed around the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf nations. More than 14,000 of those troops have moved into the region since last May amid rising tensions with Iran.

“The Pentagon has also sent Patriot air and missile defense batteries, B-52 bombers, a carrier strike group, armed Reaper drones and other engineering and support personnel.

“Commanders are still rushing more Patriot antimissile batteries and other weaponry into Iraq, but are still a week or two away from having the additional defensive systems in place there, a senior U.S. military official said.”

The US commander in Iraq, Lt. General Robert White. has written a memorandum to his commanders arguing against the planned escalation in Iraq. According to the Times: “The United States’ top commander in Iraq has warned that such a campaign could be bloody and counterproductive and risks war with Iran. In a blunt memo last week, the commander, Lt. Gen. Robert P. White, wrote that a new military campaign would also require thousands more American troops be sent to Iraq and divert resources from what has been the primary American military mission there: training Iraqi troops to combat the Islamic State”.

Iran has suffered substantial deaths from COVID-19 and it may be the case that the US thinks that the pandemic may complicate and possibly hamstring Iranian decision making. But an article in the Teheran Times has a defiant tone:

“A member of the Iraqi Parliament Mohammad Albeldawi referred to this issue and maintained that based on evidence, the US seeks to orchestrate a coup in Iraq by activating ISIS in the Iraqi Governorates of Nineveh, Saladin, and Diyala.

“According to the Iraqi MP, what is currently being reported in the media affiliated with the Arab States of the Persian Gulf is a beginning for the US Plot. Moreover, US efforts to pressure the Iraqi government to release ISIS prisoners with the excuse of coronavirus outbreak is considered another proof.

“Meanwhile, a Kuwaiti newspaper quoted an informed source on Sunday saying that the US is planning a military coup in Iraq to seize power and it has informed its allies in Baghdad.

Alquds Alarabi Newspaper also quoted a special source and noted, “The upcoming attacks against US troops prompted them to withdraw from some of their bases and focus on special ones. These forces have not fully withdrawn and have left some military advisors behind.’”

It may also be the case that the US might think that military action against Iran in Iraq would divert attention away from the COVID-19 crisis in the US. US President Trump tweeted this message at 1 pm today: “Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” The tweet seems designed to begin conditioning the US public for possible conflict.

We should keep in mind that the US has one less aircraft carrier at its disposal. The USS Theodore Roosevelt, currently docked at Guam, is battling an outbreak of COVID-19 and may not be able to be deployed in the event of a conflict. The aircraft carrier might have been useful in a confrontation with North Korea which recently tested two ballistic missiles in violation of the Singapore Agreement with the US. It appears, however, that the US has decided to ignore this provocation.

Posted April 1, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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