Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Iraq In The Crossfire Between US And Iran

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Iraq is suffering from internal divisions and external interventions for long. The problems of the people of Iraq did not end despite the hope generated by the defeat of the ISIS in 2017. It was due to the inability of the government in Baghdad to deliver on the expectation of Iraqis on crony capitalism and corruption. Also, there was no consensus among the political class that not only stalled government formation but also paralysed governance. The political and military interventions, especially by Iran and the US, fuelled internal divisions. To protest against these, the Iraqi people started protests and demonstration throughout the country demanding accountability in governance, better amenities, end to crony capitalism and corruption as well as the end to meddling by outsiders.

The demonstrations in Iraq soon snowballed into a major crisis after some of the protestors were killed in action by the security forces and Iranian-backed militias such as Kataib Hezbollah. The group also organised counter protests in several parts of the country to demand end of US military presence in Iraq. In December 2019, the group launched rockets attacks on one of the Iraqi military base in Kirkuk frequently used by the US forces. The attack led to killing of one of the Iraqi contractors working for the US military. The retaliatory attacks by the US military two days later killed several leaders and fighters of Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria and destroyed some of its weapons depots in Iraq.

This eventually escalated to the situation where on December 31, the Popular Mobilisation Front organised a protests outside the US embassy in Baghdad where some of its members tried to storm the embassy building. On January 2, the US launched a drone strike on a convoy of leaders outside the Baghdad airport killing not only the chief of the Kataib Hezbollah Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis but also Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Iranian elite Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards. The situation threatened to escalate into a full blown war between the US and Iran, it could have also engulfed Iraq into the crossfire.

Though at the time, both Iran and the US decided to deescalate the situation after Iran mounted retaliatory strikes inside some of the Iraqi military bases used by the US military, the situation has now flared up again. The Kataib Hezbollah launched rocket attacks on a military camp north of Baghdad which is used by US-led coalition forces leading to killing of two American and one British service members and injury to several others. The US military launched simultaneous strikes on five locations suspected to being weapon depots for Kataib Hezbollah. The attacks were launched to blunt the potency of Iran-Backed Kataib Hezbollah to launch further rocket strikes on US-led coalition military bases and camps. Analysts expect, this might just be the beginning of a long proxy war between Iran and the US inside Iraq. Undoubtedly, if the situation between the US and Iraq flares up further it is Iraq and Iraqis that will suffer the most.

India has said that all parties involved in Iraq should maintain peace, avoid escalation and exercise restraint under all circumstances. For India, peace, stability and reconstruction of Iraq is of paramount importance not only because of the links between the two countries but also for the future of the people of Iraq. At the time of the killing of General Soleimani, India had noted the killing of the senior Iranian leader by the US and had expressed fears of “increase in tension” and “further escalation”. New Delhi has urged restraint and underlined it is the vital need for regional stability not only for India but the whole world.

Iraq faces an uncertain future because of the tensions between the US and Iran. It is under the threat of coming into the crossfire of the fighting between the two rivals. Iraqi leadership could do well to restrain the local militias from fuelling the fire and becoming a pawn in the hands of external powers for the sake of peace, stability and security of Iraq and the Gulf region.

Script: Dr.Mohd. Muddassir quamar, Strategic Analyst on West Asia

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