US faces crossroads in Iraq with threat of embassy closure

In the past week Iraq has been roiled by more attacks on the US.

Iraqi Army officers wear protective masks, following an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as they walk with U.S. officers before a handover ceremony of U.S.-led coalition forces to Iraqi Security Forces as part of a drawdown of coalition troops at the Nineveh presidential palace, in Nineve (photo credit: REUTERS/ABDULLAH RASHID)
Iraqi Army officers wear protective masks, following an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as they walk with U.S. officers before a handover ceremony of U.S.-led coalition forces to Iraqi Security Forces as part of a drawdown of coalition troops at the Nineveh presidential palace, in Nineve
(photo credit: REUTERS/ABDULLAH RASHID)
Three years after the US refused to back an independence referendum in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and preferred to side with Baghdad, the Americans may be relocating what is left of their personnel in the country to the Kurdish region near the city of Erbil.
This is because the US has now thrown down the gauntlet to Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, telling them to stop attacks on US forces and installations or the US will leave its embassy.
In the last week, Iraq has been roiled by more attacks on US targets. After the White House warned Iran against its ballistic-missile threats, the Islamic Republic sought to pressure the US through emphasizing US setbacks at the UN. Russia and China joined Tehran in mocking Washington.
At the same time, the head of Iran’s IRGC Aerospace Force, Amir Hajizadeh, said Iran had a robust, indigenous production line of missiles. Iran has shown more and more local missiles off in recent years, alongside drones and other weapons, including new unmanned military vehicles.
On September 23-24, the US upped its patrols in Syria with a new shipment of six Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Meanwhile, Iran sought to put its hands on eastern Iraq near the Kurdistan region in the north, ostensibly to stop smuggling. The US, flexing its muscles, said for the first time in two and a half years it had conducted airstrikes from a Fifth Fleet aircraft carrier in support of anti-ISIS operations.
Elliot Abrams, the US special envoy for Iran issues, said the US would announce new sanctions on Iran.
In Iraq, the Iraqi leadership, including Muqtada al-Sadr, condemned recent attacks on a British diplomatic convoy. Hadi al-Amiri’s Fatah Alliance, which is close to Iran, also said it opposed the attack. But there were more rocket and explosive (IED) attacks in the works.
While US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on warning Iraq that the US could evacuate its embassy in an unprecedented move to pressure Baghdad to stop the attacks, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein went to Iran for consultations, and Iran pressured Iraq to remove US forces.
In Lebanon, Iran also advised Hezbollah to stand strong against a French initiative. Iran was gambling it could get the US out of Iraq and France out of Lebanon’s politics at the same time. This is the game Iran is playing amid US-Iraq strategic dialogue.
Since January, the US has withdrawn from eight facilities in Iraq, and it has carried out airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias that target US facilities. The last airstrike was in March.
In the last week, the successor to IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani, a man named Ismael Ghaani, traveled to Karbala, according to video published at Iran’s Mehr News Agency. The goal of the video was to show that even as the US pressured Iraq, the Iranian hand could be wherever it wanted to be in Iraq.
The next day, September 27, Iran showed off a massive display of new weapons, including an unmanned vehicle and missiles hidden inside shipping containers. There was then more showing off, with a plethora of missiles being showcased. The aim was to show that Iran was ready to face the Americans.
At the same time, US sources circulated information online that Washington feared an attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad. Sadr moved to encourage a committee to investigate the rocket attacks, and Dallah al-Fayyadh agreed. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi also appeared to agree.
However, pro-Iran groups were seeking to capitalize on the US moves. Qais Khazali, once a US detainee at Camp Cropper, urged militia groups to let the US leave. Khazali’s Asaib Ahl al-Haq said Iraq should not investigate the rocket attacks on the US. While Khazali was giving this explanation, another pro-Iranian militia head, Akram al-Kaabi of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, also said its missile arsenal was ready, a hint that it could strike US assets.
The same day, there was an IED attack on a convoy carrying equipment to US forces in Babil province and a second attack near Hillah. This was followed by another attack on September 28 against a logistics convoy in southern Baghdad.
Clearly, the pro-Iran militias that carry out the near-daily attacks have advance knowledge of the convoys’ locations. But the drivers are rarely harmed, indicating the attackers don’t want to inflict casualties.
Some good news from Iraq came on September 28 with a report that Iraq would import electricity from Jordan, and the US ambassador said Washington still supports Iraq’s war against Islamic State. US forces are in Iraq to fight ISIS. However, they are being drawn down to just a few thousand from 5,000.
Convoys for US facilities were attacked by IEDs on July 23; August 3, 9, 23 and 26; September 2, 3, 5, 7, 15, 18, 21, 27 and 28. Rockets were fired on July 24, 27, 28, 30 and 31; August 3, 5, 11, 14, 15, 16, 18, 28, 29 and 30; September 6, 7, 10, 15, 16 and 20.
This is what has caused the US to finally say Iraq needs to stop the attacks. Kadhimi had sought to stop them with a raid on Kataib Hezbollah in June, and now he once again wants to do something. However, Iran is constantly waiting in the wings and urging him through various messages and pressures not to do so.


Tags Iraq US Army