Monday, May 23

US attacks pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, strains relations with Baghdad




The president of the United States, Joe Biden, authorized the American armed forces a series of air strikes on the Iraq-Syria border against what the Pentagon has described as positions and arsenals of Iranian militias in the area, something that has led the government in Baghdad, which in principle is a nominal ally of Washington, to condemn what has classified as a violation of its sovereignty and international law.

In this sense, the current US president maintains the practice, adopted by Barack Obama and continued by Donald Trump, of curbing the expansionist anxieties of the theocratic regime of the ayatollahs with attacks in countries where it interferes, especially in Iraq. One of the most momentous decisions of Trump in his mandate was to authorize in January 2020 a drone attack in Iraq with which killed the commander of the Iranian Quds force, General Qassem Suleimani.

For years that Quds force, headed by Trump, has supervised Iranian interference operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and even Venezuela, according to US military intelligence reports. The attack ordered by Biden and revealed by the Pentagon on Sunday was against positions on the Syrian-Iraqi border of the Shiite groups Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, responsible in the past for attacks against the US Armed Forces inside Iraq.

The US military presence in Iraq is an eternal problem in Washington since the Capitol authorized the invasion of George W. Bush in 2003. That war, which caused the downfall of Saddam Hussein and in whose wake the Islamic State emerged, has been terminated many times, but the truth is that on the ground there are about 2,500 uniformed, according to official Pentagon figures. The official reason for this permanence is to contain the advance of jihadism in what was a zone of no one and between Syria and Afghanistan, today in principle under control, collapsed the caliphate. Those troops, frequently targeted by pro-Iranian militias, also provide security for the huge US diplomatic complex in the country.

The announcement of these attacks was made by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby in a statement. He said that ‘the targets were selected because their facilities were used by the Iran-sponsored militias involved in air vehicle strikes unmanned [drones] against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.

The bombardments were carried out with F15 and F16 fighters, which attacked two different locations in Syria and one in Iraq. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is an independent UK organization closely monitoring the conflict in Syria with informants on the ground, said at least seven Iraqi militiamen were killed in the recent border attack.

The head of American diplomacy, Antony Blink, reiterated on a trip to Rome the view that the actions of the US armed forces were defensive in nature. “It is about self-defense to prevent future attacks, and it is our intention to send a strong message, and to be heard,” said Blinken, according to the Ap agency.

Previously, the Iraqi military rejected Iraq becoming a “setting for reckoning,” and described the US attack within its borders as a “flagrant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty, as well as international conventions.” The Syrian regime, for its part, is an ally of Iran, with whom it maintains close collaboration and who has assisted it militarily in its fight against the jihadists of the Islamic State.

Warning to Tehran

Since his arrival at the White House, Biden has tried to conjugate his intention to return the US to the Iran nuclear deal, negotiated by Obama and broken by Trump, with the desire to establish clear limits to Iranian interference abroad. Last week the lawyer Ebrahim Raisi was proclaimed the winner in a few presidential elections of Iran controlled and led by the ayatollahs, determined to turn around the supposed restraint of the outgoing president, Hasan Rohaní. Sunday’s attacks are actually the second by the US under the Biden Administration in the area. As early as February, the US launched airstrikes against facilities inside Syria, but near the Iraqi border, claiming they were used by Iranian-backed militia groups. The Pentagon said those attacks were a response to a rocket attack in Iraq earlier that month that killed a contractor and wounded a uniformed man, both Americans.

So, when he had been in the White House for a few days, after Trump’s years of peak tension with Iran, Biden issued a warning to Tehran. “They cannot act with impunity. Be careful, “he said, when asked by a journalist. For now, Biden has maintained the harsh Trump sanctions. At the same time, the current US president has authorized the round of indirect contacts that takes place in Vienna, which is intended to bring the White House back to the nuclear deal. The main problem in reaching an agreement is that for now Tehran has demanded that the sanctions be lifted as a gesture of goodwill, something that the Capitol, the seat of the legislative power, sees with a bad eye.

Yesterday Biden received the outgoing Israeli president at the White House, Reuven Rivlin. Although he holds a non-executive position, Rivlin has traditionally been within the conservative orthodoxy of his country, which sees Iran as the main adversary in the Middle East. According to the agenda leaked by the White House, both leaders discussed extensively about the policy related to the Ayatollah regime.

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