While the whole world was preparing to celebrate the New Year on December 31, employees of the American embassy in Baghdad held the defense in the literal sense. Shiite protest groups stormed the Green Zone, a fortified area in the center of the Iraqi capital where diplomatic institutions are located. They threw the building of the American Embassy with Molotov cocktails, broke surveillance cameras, and several people even burst inside the building. The US military had to oust the angry Iraqis from the embassy building with tear gas. American attack helicopters circled over the territory and fired "heat traps" to scare off protesters. It didn’t come to the use of small arms, but American diplomats still had to leave the country. Washington has no doubt that Tehran is behind the assault on the embassy. US President Donald Trump has already threatened the Iranian authorities with serious consequences if American citizens die or US facilities in Iraq are damaged.
The reason for the provocation in Baghdad was the clash last week between the Iranian-sponsored Shiite armed group Hezbollah Kataib and the US military. Hezbollah Kataib fighters rocketed a military base in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk on December 28, which killed one civilian American and injured four US troops. In response, the Americans launched airstrikes at five Hezbollah Kataib bases in Syria and Iraq, resulting in 25 deaths and 50 more injured. The Pentagon decided to additionally send 750 troops to Iraq to ensure the security of the Americans, but this is unlikely to reduce the conflict potential in the country, fomented in the interests of Iran.
Provocations of Iran
Events in the "green zone" of Iraq developed according to the well-established scenario of Islamic extremists of various stripes. This is not the first attack on American diplomats in a Muslim country. In September 2012, the Salafi group Ansar al-Sharia attacked the American consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Then four Americans died, including the ambassador. Attacks on US diplomatic and consular offices were also carried out in Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia, and Afghanistan in 2012. Well, the most dramatic was the capture of 66 American citizens at the American embassy in Tehran in November 1979 against the backdrop of the Islamic revolution in Iran.
The Ayatollah regime dared the old days and played on the nerves of the White House on New Year's Eve in Baghdad. The rally was attended by the leader of the pro-Iranian armed group Asaib Ahl al-Haq Qais al-Hazali, the deputy head of the Iraqi People’s Mobilization Forces committee Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who is in contact with representatives of the Quds Iranian special forces. According to al-Hazali, a conspiracy against Iraq was being prepared at the American embassy. Participants in the provocation created a picture of mass dissatisfaction with US policy in Iraq and loyalty to Iranian agents of influence. They shouted anti-American slogans, carried the banners of Hezbollah Kataib.
Firing at a military base in Kirkuk, Hezbollah Kataib deliberately fired upon the US Air Force to provoke an increase in anti-American sentiment in Iraqi society. Protesting Iraqi Shiites and Kurds are unhappy with the rule of Mahdi, but do not want to strengthen the influence of pro-Iranian armed groups in the country. The question is about the appointment of a new head of government after Mahdi announced his resignation. Iran’s attempts to put his man in the prime minister’s seat in Iraq by political methods ended in failure. A week ago, Iraqi President Barham Saleh resigned because he did not want to approve the candidacy of Asaad al-Idani from the Al-Binaa bloc, aimed at rapprochement with Iran.
Therefore, the ayatollah regime is doing everything to provoke a deepening political crisis in Iraq, to rally the Shiites there around the American threat, to make it clear that supposedly only Iran and its allies are able to ensure their security. In Tehran, they are counting on conditions of escalation of tension and growing anti-American sentiment to achieve a change in the political regime in Iraq in their favor through early parliamentary elections or by force, depending on the circumstances. The role of Shiite martyrs took on the Hezbollah Kataib militants who died under American bombs.
With the help of airstrikes, Washington wanted to outline the "red lines" in Syria and Iraq to Tehran and demonstrate what could happen if they cross. The United States used force in response to the deaths and injuries of its citizens. Similarly, the United States replaced Russia in Syria in February 2018, destroying a group of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner PMC while trying to capture one of the oil and gas fields in the province of Deir Ez-Zor. This time, the opposite effect was obtained. US airstrikes on Hezbollah Kataib positions will be used by Iran as an excuse to organize new provocations as retaliation. In the sight of Iraqi militants are 5.2 thousand American troops stationed in Iraq, about 350 civilians from among American diplomats and employees. The United States has interests in the oil and gas sector of Iraq, where over 20 international companies, including the American company ExxonMobil, operate.
Recent provocations suggest that the United States does not control the security situation in Iraq, and its influence on local political circles has been reduced to a minimum. No one is stopping Iran-sponsored militants from firing on American targets or stormed the US embassy. By the way, the shelling of a military base in Kirkuk is already the eleventh such provocation. Previously, the business districts of Baghdad and Basra were subjected to rocket attacks. Iran is taking aggressive actions to squeeze American influence out of Iraq and turn the neighboring country into its patrimony.
There are concerns about the escalation of the armed conflict in Syria and Iraq as a result of recent provocations. Most likely, this will be a confrontation in the spirit of Israel’s conflict with the terrorist organizations Hamas, Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, which also receive material assistance from Iran. Shiite groups will continue to attack the US military and civilians, shelling American targets in order to force the United States to withdraw from Iraq and recognize Iran’s ambitions for regional leadership in the Middle East by lifting sanctions. The Americans, in turn, will have to refrain from reducing the military presence in the Middle East, to launch missile and bomb attacks on the positions of Shiite groups.
The Iraq crisis could have twofold consequences for Trump's reputation. The policy of reducing the US military presence in the Middle East is unjustified and has already led to the fact that Russia, Iran and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have filled the vacuum in northeast Syria. Americans will have to concentrate on fighting pro-Iranian Shiite organizations if they do not want to lose Iraq’s oil and gas sector. The withdrawal of the US military from this country is out of the question.
The situation in Iraq demonstrates the lack of foresight of the Trump team, which underestimated Iran's ability to destabilize regional security. The shelling of the US military and the assault on the embassy in Iraq are just separate episodes of Iran’s aggressive policy. Last year, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps captured foreign tankers in the Persian Gulf, and a sponsored Shiite Yemeni group bombed Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.
On the other hand, Trump can take advantage of the instability in Iraq to his advantage in the midst of the election campaign and on the eve of the vote on the impeachment of the president in the US Senate. Trump is gaining the image of a president who is ready to take extraordinary steps to protect Americans abroad. Airstrikes on Hezbollah Kataib positions and the sending of reinforcements to the US military in Iraq are proof of this. Trump is trying to distract American society from talking about its impeachment and gain support in the Senate, dominated by members of the Republican Party, who approve of a policy of sanctions against Iran.
Trump is trying to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of American lawmakers after surrendering the Kurds in Syria to be torn to pieces by the Turkish army. Reducing the US military presence in Syria was not approved by reputable Republicans like Senator Lindsay Graham. Reducing the US military presence in Syria was not approved by reputable Republicans like Senator Lindsay Graham. Trump is demonstrating strength in Iraq despite being accused of creating the conditions for enhancing the influence of Russia and Iran in Syria.