Iran’s influence on the chaos in Iraq and Syria
Earlier this year on Feb. 15, a series of rockets struck the Iraqi city of Erbil. Some of these rockets directly hit the U.S.-led coalition base near the Erbil International Airport, while others hit the residential surroundings. Erbil is the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq. Since Iraqi Kurdistan has been a relatively safe and stable region for the past few years, this attack was unusual. The casualties included two killed and thirteen injured; no Americans soldiers were killed in these attacks.
In response to the attack in Erbil, the Biden administration authorized airstrikes on “Iranian backed” militant groups in Eastern Syria on Feb. 25. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the airstrikes killed at least 22 people.
NBC’s Chief White House correspondent, Kristen Welker, claimed “the administration wanted to send a strong message to Iran, attacks like those last week against American assets will not be tolerated.” In addition, she claimed the attacks were meant to be “proportionate and targeted, which basically means it was aimed at avoiding escalation.” Furthermore, she reiterated that the administration’s intent was to display strength, despite being open to discourse on renegotiating the Iran Nuclear Deal.
However, who are these “Iranian backed” militant groups? The group that claimed responsibility for the attack in Erbil is called Saraya Awliya al-Dam. According to an NBC News article, this obscure Iraqi militant group is apparently “a front organization created by the main Shiite militias in Iraq.” Since Iran is a powerful Shiite-Muslim power in the region, the United States presumed Iran was behind the attack in Erbil. As a consequence, other Shiite paramilitary groups in Eastern Syria were attacked. Iran and other Middle Eastern countries condemned the military action taken by the Biden administration, as they were viewed as an infringement of Syrian sovereignty.
When ISIL was still an eminent threat in the region, the same Shiite paramilitary groups known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, aided the US in stabilizing the region. Now that ISIL is essentially wiped out, these Iraqi Shiite forces do not see a place for the United States in the region.
In addition, the US also recently carried out a swift operation to take out Iran’s most powerful general, Qasem Soleimani. He was assassinated through a drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq. Soleimani was considered the second most powerful political figure in Iran, equivalent to Vice Presidential status. As a result, this further caused resentment amongst the Iranians and Iraqis toward the US.
The unfortunate reality is that countries like Syria and Iraq are victims of proxy wars, where greater powers like the US and Iran try to exert their influence. Syria has a Shiite government led by Bashar Al-Assad, while Iraq has a Shiite majority population. Therefore, Iran utilizes its cultural ties to expand its influence on the region. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States have a common goal in stifling Iran’s power. The question is whether to harm them economically or prevent them from developing nuclear weapons.
Moreover, the controversial Iran Nuclear Deal was viewed as an achievement of peace by some, and a catastrophe by others. The deal ensured Iran would stop enriching uranium, curbing its nuclear program. As a result, some viewed this policy as progress towards creating a safer world. This also meant that Iran’s economy would prosper due to previous sanctions being lifted. Those who viewed the deal poorly claimed a more prosperous Iran could further exert its influence around the region.
The unstable relationship and lack of diplomacy between the United States and Iran has created palpable tension in the Middle East. Consequently, this gives the American Military-Industrial Complex the justification to commit violence in the region in the name of protecting American interests. This extremely well-funded, hawkish military establishment tends to fearmonger Americans into believing war is necessary. For example, the war in Iraq was justified due to the country’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, which never existed in the first place. Similarly, will the ambiguous label “Iran backed” always warrant immediate military action?
All in all, will this administration continue to take swift and decisive military action against any perceived threat or proceed with caution in order to bolster diplomacy?