The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq according to the Antichrist

The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq: Political Factions and the Ruling Elite

Usman ButtNovember 16, 2020


March 2, 2021 at 4:01 pm

Zana Gulmohamad’s new book, The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq: Political Factions and the Ruling Elite, takes on the mammoth task of exploring and explaining how Iraq has formulated its foreign relations since the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation. Iraqi politics are often quite difficult for outside observers to make sense of; foreign policy is no different. As Gulmohamad makes clear, Iraq has no single foreign policy; the ruling elite in both Baghdad and Erbil have multiple foreign policies. Through interviews with diplomats, ambassadors and politicians, the author, who teaches politics and international relations at Sheffield University, has put together an important insight into how the country’s foreign relations are determined.

Gulmohamad identifies three levels to Iraqi foreign policy and quotes lawmaker Dhafer Al-A’ni in explaining them: “There are multiple or numerous levels of Iraqi foreign policy… Firstly it is based on ethnic or sectarian foreign policies; Shiite, Sunnis, and Kurdish foreign policies… Secondly, there are different foreign policies from decision makers’ level, such as the President, Prime Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs where each has their own perspective and they are not compatible… Thirdly, there are foreign policies that emanate from various political parties, which are different from each other; for example, the external relations of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan are different from those of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.” Thus we ask not only what Iraq’s foreign policy is, but also whose foreign policy is it? Or as the author puts it, “Various political factions via their ethnic, religious, political, ideological and personal differences and their competition for resources and power have contributed to an incoherent foreign policy.”

The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq… proceeds to take us through different political factions, actors, movements, and institutions and explores how each one forms its own foreign policy and how they interact with one another. “The Iraqi state’s weaknesses and the post-2003 political system, including the quota al-Muhasasa and the electoral system (proportional representation), have contributed to the rise of emerging political figures and parties,” writes Gulmohamad. “While al-Muhasasa has contributed to the divided foreign policy, the principle of inclusion of all three major ethno-sectarian political factions (Shia, Arab Sunni, and Kurd) has prevented a complete fallout of the state’s system and given every main political component a stake in Iraq. The interests and external ties of the political factions do not necessarily translate to benefit the public.” This is a critical point because the political factions are constantly trying to undermine one another, and at the same time, the inclusion of these different factions stops the state from collapsing entirely. However, the Iraqi people do not actually benefit a great deal from the preservation of this political system.

Whilst the book discusses the ethnic and sectarian composition of power in Iraq, it does not fall into lazy thinking by treating these identity markers as having homogeneous attitudes in foreign policy thinking. “There are clear differences between the Shia elites and factions in terms of how they view regional and international powers. Thus, not all Shia elites and factions are pro-Iran, and both [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani and Muqtada [Al-Sadr] seek to limit Iranian leverage while maintaining a competitive relationship with Iran. Muqtada and [former Prime Minister Haider] al-Abadi’s supporters, unlike the pro-Iran factions, are more willing to restore ties with, for instance, the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia].”

The Islamic Da’wa Party, a Shia political movement which has given Iraq three prime ministers, tends to take a harder sectarian approach to foreign policy, although there are degrees to this depending on which prime minister you examine. Nouri Al-Maliki, who was prime minister of Iraq between 2006 and 2014, gravitated the country’s foreign policy towards complete alignment with Iran on both domestic and regional issues. According to Gulmohamad, Al-Maliki had two faces when it came to foreign policy; he held the principle that Iraq would never meddle in the affairs of other countries, but he turned a blind eye to and facilitated Iran’s recruitment of Iraqi Shia to fight in Syria in defence of dictator Bashar Al-Assad. While Al-Maliki held that Iraq should be sovereign, his entrenchment with Tehran and hostility towards Iran’s regional rivals harmed the country’s sovereignty.

Not everyone in the Da’wa Party agreed with Al-Maliki’s style of government and internal factionalism played out in foreign policy, as the author tells us: “A few days before Prime Minister al-Maliki’s resignation, a number of Da’wa Party members visited Iran to persuade Iranian decision-makers not to support al-Maliki.” The prime minister’s decision to step down was also influenced by the United States refusing to help Iraq against Daesh unless he resigned.

This is a useful study that will equip readers with the tools to understand how post-2003 Iraq makes foreign policy decisions. It also provides a mirror into domestic politics within the country and explores the dynamics of different movements. It does not deal very much with the United States and claims that Washington has had very little influence over how Iraq makes its foreign policy since the 2005 parliamentary elections. Many would argue that this demonstrates America’s disinterest in governing Iraq post-invasion and more studies examining this question would be welcome. Iraqis benefit very little from this arrangement, as Zana Gulmohamad tells us repeatedly throughout the book.

While The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq… offers an insight into that country, it might also help us to look at other countries in a similar situation, including neighbouring Syria. This is, without doubt, a spirited and welcome book that contributes to our understanding of political dynamics in post-invasion Iraq.

US Bases Hit by Rockets Again

Air base hosting US troops in Iraq targeted in rocket attack, coalition says

By Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN

Updated 8:13 AM EST, Wed March 03, 2021

(CNN) An air base hosting US, Iraqi and coalition forces in Iraq was targeted on Wednesday by at least 10 rockets, US coalition officials said.

The Al-Asad air base was struck by grad missiles, Iraqi officials said earlier Wednesday. There are no reports of casualties or damage, and no group immediately claimed responsibility.

The rocket launcher was found in the al-Bayader agricultural area near the town of al-Baghdadi, about 180 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, military sources told CNN. Sabereen news, a pro-Shia militia group, published images on its Telegram page claiming to show the launcher that attacked the base. CNN cannot independently verify the images.

The attack came just less than a week after the US military struck a site in Syria used by two Iranian-backed militia groups in response to rocket attacks on American forces in the region in recent weeks, which was the US military’s first known action under President Joe Biden.

The air base was last attacked in January 2020 by Iranian missiles avenging Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military figure who was killed by a US airstrike ordered by then-President Donald Trump at Baghdad International Airport in 2020.

Wednesday’s rocket attack comes just two days ahead of a scheduled trip to Iraq by Pope Francis, the first time a Pope has visited the country. The Pope will be staying at the Vatican Embassy throughout his trip, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

Antichrist allows Pope to visit ‘suffering’ Christian community

Pope’s Iraq trip brings him close to ‘suffering’ Christian community

Warda said it was “historical and courageous” for the pope to visit Iraq amidst security threats and the COVID-19 pandemic.

 March 1 2021   11:19

Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil Basha Matti Warda speaks during an interview with Kurdistan 24 (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Pope Francis’s upcoming trip to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region will be his chance to be close to the suffering Christians of the region, Basha Matti Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil has told Kurdistan 24.

The Roman Catholic leader is planning to visit Iraq and the Kurdistan Region from March 5-8 to show solidarity to a Christian community that has been decimated by ongoing wars since 2003 and attacks from jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State that target minorities, including Christians and Yezidis (Ezidis).

Warda said it was “historical and courageous” for the pope to visit Iraq amidst security threats and the COVID-19 pandemic. He predicted it will not be easy for Francis and his delegation but “it’s needed and so he will make it.”

ISIS entered Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June 2014 and eventually occupied a large territory that included Christian-populated areas in the Nineveh plains. Around 200,000 were displaced and many fled to the autonomous Kurdistan Region.

The archbishop said preparations for the pope’s historic visit began two weeks ago. “We are very grateful for the government of Kurdistan that they put everything needed to help to make this successful,” he told Kurdistan 24 in an exclusive interview in the capital’s predominately-Christian Ankawa suburb. “Of course, Erbil will have the biggest event, which is the final Mass.”

Francis will hold a final Mass, generally an important milestone in a pope’s trip abroad, in Erbil’s Franso Hariri Stadium on March 7 before departing for Rome. Organizers have limited attendance to no more than 10,000 people because of COVID-19 concerns.

Decline of Christians in Iraq

“The number of Christians has started declining since 2003,” Warda said. “But we cannot deny the fact also that there are certain areas in the country that welcomed the Christians, like Kurdistan.”

He added that ISIS attacks had devastating results on the Christian community. “But thank God with the work and contribution of all we were able to maintain 8,000 families and keep them safe here in Erbil.” 

In 2019, the archbishop told the BBC that the Christian community had dwindled by 83 percent, from around 1.5 million to just 250,000.  

The US State Department’s most recent annual report on religious freedom estimated that between 10 and 22 Christian families are leaving Iraq and the Kurdistan Region every month, many driven out by discrimination and threats of violence.

Some Christians returned to the Nineveh plains in 2016 and 2017, Warda said. However, there are still 2,600 Christian families living in the Kurdistan Region that were unable to return to Mosul and “need help to rebuild their houses” there, as well as programs to help them rebuild their livelihoods.

The Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister Masrour Barzani told France 24 in a recent interview that he hopes the pope’s visit will prompt more international support for refugees, including Christians who have been displaced to the Kurdistan region.

Solving problems for the Christian community

The archbishop underlined that the pope’s visit will highlight the importance for politicians to work together to “maintain the diversity of the Iraqi population.”

“This is not a typical everyday story, especially if you consider that His Holiness Pope [John Paul II] wanted to make this trip in the year 2000, but he couldn’t,” Warda said.

In 2019, Pope Francis said he would embark on his first trip to Iraqi the following year, but it was postponed due to regional tensions and the global coronavirus pandemic. According to Warda, who has met the pope several times, it was the pontiff’s wish to visit Iraq.

“He always mentioned that he wanted to visit this country and he wants to be close to the suffering of the people of Iraq,” Warda said.

Kurdistan 24 English

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Erbil’s Chaldean Archbishop talks to K24 about the upcoming Pope visit to Iraq

However, he added that the pope will not be able to solve issues such as the confiscation of Christian homes by militias and influential families in Iraq.

Earlier this month the Vatican News service reported that 38 illegally expropriated houses and land in Iraq were returned to Christian owners after a campaign by the influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Francis is scheduled to meet top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani in the city of Najaf on March 6.

Warda stressed that resolving the Christian community’s problems “is the responsibility of the Iraqi government because Christians, first and foremost, are citizens of Iraq, and they have rights as citizens of Iraq.”

“So his holiness, when he comes is just [with] a message of peace and support, that’s all,” Warda added. “He is coming for the Christians as a pastor, as a father, as a shepherd, but when it comes to the rights of [Christians] this is the responsibility of the Iraqi government.”

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly

The China Nuclear Horn Prepares for Nuclear War: Daniel 7

China said to speed up move to more survivable nuclear force

By ROBERT BURNS , Associated Press

March 01, 2021 – 5:35 AM

WASHINGTON — China appears to be moving faster toward a capability to launch its newer nuclear missiles from underground silos, possibly to improve its ability to respond promptly to a nuclear attack, according to an American expert who analyzed satellite images of recent construction at a missile training area.

Hans Kristensen, a longtime watcher of U.S., Russian and Chinese nuclear forces, said the imagery suggests that China is seeking to counter what it may view as a growing threat from the United States. The U.S. in recent years has pointed to China’s nuclear modernization as a key justification for investing hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming two decades to build an all-new U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Biden strikes on Syrian sites may threaten the Iran nuclear deal

Biden strikes Syrian sites: What impact on Iraq and Iran nuclear deal?

Ellen Laipson

| The Daily Star

In its sixth week in office, the Biden administration has already used military force in the Middle East. Seven bombs were dropped on a group of buildings in Syria associated with pro-Iran Shiite militias, allegedly responsible for a recent attack on a US and coalition base outside Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. The attack has been characterized as carefully calibrated; the president chose one of the less aggressive options presented to him, with the goal of keeping the damage inflicted proportional to the attacks that triggered the action.

Over the past year, Shiite militias have lobbed rockets against the large US Embassy compound in Baghdad, inflicting property damage but no significant casualties. The February Irbil attack, which wounded several and killed one non-US-citizen contractor, appeared to be a continuation of a pattern. In response, the US targeted a compound of multiple buildings used by several Shiite militias to support their operations in Iraq. US defense officials explained that the operation was defensive in nature, to protect US and allied personnel, and “our Iraqi partners.

This formulation is an interesting departure from the approach of the Trump administration, which scolded and bullied the Iraqi government when such attacks occurred, threatening in 2020 to close the US Embassy in Baghdad if the Iraqi security forces could not protect Americans present in the country. Biden is sending a very different signal, that the US presence in Iraq is for the shared mission of preventing terrorism from Daesh (ISIS) or other extremists, and building greater capacity and stability in Iraq.

The choice of a facility in Syria and the vague attribution to the Irbil attack could generate criticism in coming days. The compound the US bombed was very close to the border of Iraq, southwest of Irbil, but arguably could be seen as an offensive act against a state that did not cause the original harm.

While the US may not feel obliged to follow diplomatic protocols related to the Syrian regime, it was Russia, Syria’s main security partner, which reacted badly to the attack, complaining that the US gave Moscow only an hour’s notice before sending fighter aircraft into the territory that Russia helps control. In addition, US officials have said that Iraq will investigate the Irbil attack to determine the perpetrators, yet the US believed it had sufficient intelligence to select the target and carry out the raid. The group that actually claimed responsibility, Awliya Al-Dam, or Guardians of the Blood, is one of several offshoots of the main Shiite militia Kataeb Hezbollah.

Some early commentators have questioned whether this sequence of events could derail the nascent pas de deux between Biden and Iran over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal. They worry that any escalation of tensions between the US and Iranian proxies will undermine or at least slow down the diplomatic efforts to return to full compliance with the 2015 JCPOA. Both Washington and Tehran will need to take clear steps to restore the status of the agreement, but there is much jockeying about sequencing and reciprocity.

For the US, reversing Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to leave the agreement is complicated by the legalities of US sanctions policies, and by the conviction that it is Iran that has to demonstrate its continued commitment to the terms of the agreement. Iran, for its part, has been playing hard ball, declaring that it cannot reverse its recent enrichment activities that violate its JCPOA obligations until the US removes all sanctions. The Biden administration has taken one tentative step, by agreeing to participate in an EU-hosted meeting with all the JCPOA signatories. Iran has not yet signaled its intention to attend such a meeting.

One could argue that the specific issue of defending US and coalition bases and facilities in Iraq is quite separate from diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear activities. In addition, the explicit demonstration by the new president of his willingness to use force could send an important signal to Iran. During the Obama administration, some interpreted the failure of the US to follow through on its tough rhetoric on the Syrian civil war as evidence that achieving a diplomatic success with Iran was the paramount American interest. Staying out of Syria was seen as avoiding a source of tension with Iran that could hurt the nuclear talks.

That perception is probably off the mark; Obama had made some strategic choices about Syria that were more complicated than just considering their impact on Iran. But the Biden team has now avoided such ambiguity. It will protect and defend its basic interests in the region, while working the nuclear negotiations on their own merits.

If Iran wanted to signal back to Washington, it could rein in the militia or take other steps to try to disavow these particular anti-American actions. By some accounts, Iran may not be in complete control of the Shiite militia. While the groups have surely benefitted from Iranian political, military and financial support, they operate in an Iraqi context. Past Iraqi political leaders have used and misused these militias in power struggles that were not necessarily part of a master plan from Tehran. 

At times, the US and Iran have found common ground in support of Iraq. They worked in parallel to defeat Daesh’s occupation of Mosul and other territories in northern Iraq. They have sometimes indirectly found ways to signal their preferences for the same candidates in past protracted negotiations over government formation after elections in Iraq. Both parties can be pragmatic when it comes to Iraq.

But when it comes to US-Iran relations, put your money on the more pessimistic interpretation. Iran is already prickly about Biden’s overtures, and faces presidential elections in June. The brutal experience with Trump and the volatile cycles in US presidential politics have made Iran more cynical about engaging Washington. And the January 2020 US assassination of Qasem Soleimani on Iraqi soil may not have been avenged, in Iran’s view. The activities of the Iraqi Shiite militias may retain considerable value to Iran in this ongoing asymmetric struggle.

Ellen Laipson, a former vice chair of the US’s National Intelligence Council, is currently director of the international security program at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Virginia. She is a former president and CEO of the Stimson Center in Washington. The Daily star publishes this commentary in collaboration with Syndication Bureau.

British and Canadian Horns Invade the South China Sea

And last month, the Royal Canadian Navy frigate Winnipeg passed through the contested Taiwan Strait to emphasise a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Beijing doesn’t want any of them in its backyard.

“By dispatching naval assets to the South China Sea, France and the UK are contributing to the US’ anti-China stratagems,” states the Beijing-controlled China Daily. 

It accuses the West of a “crafty” and “neo-imperial” scheme to support Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia “which could in turn provoke regional crisis”.

China has constructed a network of artificial island fortresses to impose an arbitrary claim over the entire South and East China Seas. It has authorised its Coast Guard to “open fire” on intruding vessels and “unauthorised” structures.

“It is not China that is responsible for the regional instability, but the US and its Quad allies, along with wannabe members such as France. They should focus on improving economic ties through trade and investment, not provoking problems between regional states,” Chinese Communist Party media warns.

French armed forces Minister Florence Parly announced earlier this month that the submarine FS Emeraude voyaged through the South China Sea to “enrich our knowledge of this area and affirm that international law is the only rule that is valid, regardless of the sea where we sail.”

Beijing was incensed.

“The French military has no place in the South China Sea,” state-controlled media declared, accusing Paris of a “destabilising” act. “It appears as though Paris is interested in expanding its destabilising neo-imperial influence into Southeast Asia too, which can only end in disaster just like it has in large swathes of Africa.”

Nevertheless, a French amphibious ship and frigate departed Toulon for South East Asia last week. The FS Tonnerre’s commanding officer told Naval News that he would “work to strengthen” France’s partnership with the US, Japan, India, and Australia.

Beijing has been increasing its military activities in the East and South China Seas in the past year. A near-constant chain of warship and aircraft manoeuvres and live-fire weapons tests have signalled its determination to enforce domination over the contested waterways.

Meanwhile, the Beijing-controlled South China Morning Post has again accused the US of “ratcheting up” tensions in the region after the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur sailed by on Wednesday.

It quoted People’s Liberation Eastern Theatre Command staff as saying: “Theatre troops remain on high alert and are ready to counter all threats and provocations at any time.”

Beijing’s state-controlled media has taken aim at Britain’s historic rivalry with France in a “wolf-warrior” diplomatic gibe.

“France is engaged in ‘friendly’ competition with the United Kingdom. Not wanting to feel ‘left out’, France might have mistakenly thought that it wise to join the growing militarisation of this body of water,” the China Daily asserts.

Despite the chaos and bitterness surrounding Britain’s “Brexit” separation from the European Union, the island nation has found a common cause with its cross-channel neighbours in the South China Sea.

Britain, France and Holland all have colonial ties to the region.

All maintain a degree of presence there.

Britain remains part of the 1971 Five Power Defence Arrangement designed to support its former colony, Malaysia. Signatories include Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Similarly, France maintains ties with its former colony Vietnam while managing its own Pacific territories such as Reunion Island.

And The Netherlands, which says it will send a warship to accompany HMS Queen Elizabeth, has emphasised that the United Nations Law of the Sea must form the basis of any dispute resolution.

Meanwhile, Germany is planning to send a frigate to Japan as a sign of solidarity over its East China Sea dispute with Beijing. It’s also expected to visit Australia and South Korea.

“We want to deepen our ties with our partners in the democratic camp,” Germany’s secretary for defence Thomas Silberhorn said.

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel

The forgotten nuclear threat: Revelation 16

The Week Staff

Constraints on nuclear proliferation have lapsed or been loosened in recent years. How great is the danger? Here’s everything you need to know:

Who has nuclear weapons?
The vast majority — some 91 percent — of the world’s 13,400 nuclear weapons are owned by the U.S. and Russia, which each have the power to render Earth an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland. The other early developers of nuclear arsenals were the U.K., China, and France. In an attempt to prevent further spread, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1970, pledging those five powers to eventually disarm in return for other states promising not to pursue the bomb. But more than 50 years later, all four of the countries that aren’t party to the treaty — India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea — have nuclear arsenals (although Israel has never confirmed it), and at least one signatory, Iran, has taken steps to build its own. Another treaty, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, just came into force in January, but none of the nuclear states signed it. Though public concern about nuclear war has faded since countries became preoccupied with terrorism, climate change, and now, viral pandemics, the threat remains very real. Potential triggers of nuclear conflict include India’s border disputes with both Pakistan and China, Iran’s threats to destroy Israel, Israel’s pledge to prevent Iran from getting nukes, China’s designs on Taiwan, and North Korea’s threat to South Korea.

What about arms control treaties?
Few remain. During the Reagan era, the U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals, but most arms control treaties since then have lapsed. The Bush administration pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, which sparked an arms race in missile-defense systems, and President Trump yanked the U.S. out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, saying that Russia had violated it. So the only remaining arms treaty the U.S. observes is New START, a pact with Russia negotiated under the Obama administration. That treaty cut the number of deployed nuclear warheads that each side can have by more than half, to 1,550. Former President Trump was planning to let the treaty expire this month. But just after taking office, President Biden agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend the treaty for five more years. Biden also will try to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

What is Iran’s capability?
Israeli intelligence says that the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist in November set Iran’s nuclear program back, and that it would need two years to build a nuclear weapon. In the early 2000s, the International Atomic Energy Agency discovered that Iran had been cheating on the NPT with a clandestine program to enrich uranium. Under the 2015 treaty negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran agreed to radically slash its stockpile of uranium and limit the number of centrifuges that it can use for enrichment. But since the Trump administration pulled out of the deal in 2018 and hit Iran with new sanctions, Iran has resumed production of 20 percent enriched uranium, getting nine-tenths of the way toward weapons-grade fuel.

What happens if Iran goes nuclear?
It would set off a chain of proliferation. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s enemy, has said it would seek nukes if Iran got them, and Turkey and Egypt could follow. The threat from North Korea, meanwhile, is alarming to Japan and South Korea, where factions have argued for the development of their own nuclear weapons as deterrents. Since it first tested a nuclear weapon in 2006, North Korea has built dozens of bombs and hundreds of missiles, and it now has intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach anywhere — including the continental United States. Our allies are now wondering, says Ivo Daalder of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, “Will you sacrifice us for you? Will you save Seattle at the price of Seoul?” The more nuclear weapons there are in the world, of course, the more likely it is that one could be fired by accident or fall into terrorist hands.

What comes next? 
The next nuclear summit — the NPT review conference held every five years — takes place in August. That will be a chance for the Biden administration to reassure allies and to open negotiations with rising power China. China is planning to double its arsenal to 200 warheads over the next decade, and it has been pouring money into new missile designs. Adm. Charles Richard, head of the U.S. strategic command, says China will soon be a nuclear peer of the U.S., just as Russia is. “For the first time ever, the U.S. is going to face two peer-capable nuclear competitors who are different, who you have to deter differently,” he said. “We have never faced that situation before.

The trouble with missile defense 
Missile defense is a system designed to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles before they hit. But if a country can shoot down, say, 100 enemy missiles, the enemy has an incentive to fire 200 to overwhelm the defense, leading to an offensive and defensive arms race. So in their arms control treaty, the U.S. and Soviets banned most missile defenses, relying instead on deterrence — the threat of mutual assured destruction. The U.S. pulled out of that pact in 2002, saying it needed the ability to defend against a launch by a terrorist or a rogue state such as Iran or North Korea. Since then, it has deployed defense systems in South Korea and sold anti-ballistic Patriot missiles to more than a dozen countries. The danger with missile defense is that if a country believes it can reliably defend itself against retaliatory nukes, it loses the deterrence of conducting its own first strike. But so far, despite billions in expenditures, missile defense is more of a fantasy than a reality. Patriot missiles failed to knock down most missiles fired by enemies in the Saudi-Houthi conflict and the 1991 Gulf War. In fact, says arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis, there is no evidence that a Patriot “has ever intercepted a long-range ballistic missile in combat.”

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

Biden orders airstrikes against the Iranian Horn

Biden orders airstrikes in Syria, retaliating against Iran-backed militias

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday the bombing caused “casualties” but said it was too early to say how many fighters were killed or wounded.

Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit. Mosheh Gains is a Pentagon producer for NBC News.Charlene GubashCharlene Gubash is an NBC News producer based in Cairo. Gubash, a native Minnesotan, has lived and worked in the Egyptian capital since 1985.Kristen Welker is chief White House correspondent for NBC News.Ali Arouzi, Amin Hossein Khodadadi and Adela Suliman contributed.

Feb. 25, 2021, 5:58 PM MST / Updated Feb. 26, 2021, 1:31 PM MST

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes on buildings in Syria that the Pentagon said were used by Iranian-backed militias, in retaliation for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in neighboring Iraq.

The strikes killed at least 22 people, London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday, citing unconfirmed local reports.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby portrayed the bombing in eastern Syria as carefully calibrated, calling it “proportionate” and “defensive.”

Kirby told reporters Friday the bombing caused “casualties” but said it was too early to say precisely how many militia fighters might have been killed or wounded.

“We have preliminary indications of casualties on site, I’m not going to go any further than that,” Kirby said.

The operation was the first known use of military force by the Biden administration, which has for weeks emphasized plans to focus more on challenges posed by China.

The president’s decision appeared aimed at sending a signal to Iran and its proxies in the region that Washington would not tolerate attacks on its personnel in Iraq, even at a sensitive diplomatic moment.

Three rocket attacks in one week in Iraq, including a deadly strike that hit a U.S.-led coalition base in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, presented a test for Biden only weeks after assuming the presidency. The rocket assaults coincided with a diplomatic initiative launched by the administration to try to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.

A worker cleans shattered glass outside a damaged shop following a rocket attack the previous night in Irbil on Feb. 16.Safin Hamed / AFP – Getty Images file

Kirby said two F-15 fighter jets dropped seven precision guided munitions on buildings used by the Iranian-backed militias, totally destroying nine structures and partially destroying two. The buildings were located in Abu Kamal, near the Iraqi border, a location known as a hub for the Iraqi Shiite militias supported by Iran, he said.

“This location is known to facilitate Iranian-aligned militia group activity,” Kirby said.

The airstrikes were ordered in response to a series of rocket attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, “and to ongoing threats to those personnel,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Thursday evening.

The buildings near the border were used by militias including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, according to the Pentagon.

Iranian officials did not immediately react to the strikes.

The Syrian government condemned the attack Friday, calling it “cowardly U.S. aggression” in a statement from the country’s foreign ministry that was published by state media.

The strikes violate international law and “will lead to consequences that will escalate the situation in the region,” the foreign ministry said, according to state news agency SANA.

Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chief backers, said it was given just four or five minutes’ warning before the strikes.

“This kind of notification does nothing when the strike is literally already on its way,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

The U.S. was operating in Syria “illegally,” he said, and called for better communication with the Biden administration.

The Pentagon defended the legality of the strikes, arguing Article II of the Constitution grants the president powers as commander in chief, and citing article 51 of the U.N. charter, providing countries the right to “self-defense” in response to an attack.

“I would tell you that the president acted well within his constitutional authorities under Article II as commander in chief of the United States to protect American service members involved in operations. Clearly, there’s a constitutional authority here,” Kirby told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell on Friday.

The Biden administration did inform Russia in advance of the air raid, Kirby said, but indicated it could not do so too far in advance without jeopardizing “operational security.”

The strikes provoked criticism from some Democrats in Congress, who questioned the legal rationale and demanded to know why the White House did not consult with lawmakers more closely beforehand.

“The American people deserve to hear the Administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress,” said Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees.

“Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances,” he said. “Congress must be fully briefed on this matter expeditiously.”

The administration said officials did brief congressional leadership before the air strikes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of the 22 people killed in the bombings were members of Iraqi militias. The monitoring group did not provide details about how it obtained that figure but Rami Abdulrahman, head of the rights organization, told NBC News it was based on speaking to sources inside Syria.

He added that the death toll was expected to rise, due to the number of people seriously wounded.

Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB news, meanwhile, said 17 “resistance fighters” were killed in the strikes, but also didn’t provide detail about the source of that figure other than citing “reports.”

A senior U.S. defense official told NBC News on Thursday evening that the target was a transit hub near the Iraqi-Syrian border used by the militia fighters, and it was too early to say what casualties might have been inflicted on the militants.

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“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” the Pentagon said on Thursday.

Shortly after the strike, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters travelling with him that the administration had been “very deliberate about our approach.”

“We’re confident that target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes,” Austin said, referring to the recent rocket attacks in Iraq on U.S. and coalition personnel.

The Pentagon had said previously that it was awaiting the results of an Iraqi investigation into the Irbil rocket attack.

“We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence and that was very helpful to us in refining the target,” said Austin, who spoke en route to Washington after a visit to California and Colorado.

Biden had approved the operation on Thursday morning, he said.

A civilian contractor was killed in the Irbil rocket assault, and a U.S. service member and others were wounded. At least two 107mm rockets landed on the base, which also hosts Irbil’s civilian international airport.

NBC News had previously reported that Iranian-backed militias were most likely behind the Irbil rocket attack, and that the weapons and tactics resembled previous attacks by the Iranian-linked militias. However, it was unclear if Iran had encouraged or ordered the rocket attack.

An obscure group called Saraya Awliya al-Dam, or Custodians of the Blood, claimed responsibility for the Irbil attack. But former diplomats and regional analysts said the group was merely a front organization created by the main Shiite militias in Iraq.

Following the rocket attack on the Irbil base, Iraq’s Balad air base came under rocket fire days later, where a U.S. defense firm services the country’s fighter jets, and then two rockets landed near the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.

Iran has rejected any connection to the rocket attacks.

In a phone call Tuesday between Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the two leaders agreed that “that those responsible for such attacks must be held fully to account,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.

Dennis Ross, a former senior U.S. diplomat who worked on Middle East policy under several presidents, said the administration had lowered the risk of causing friction with the Iraqi government by hitting targets in Syria.

“By striking facilities used by the militias just across the border in Syria, the risk of blowback against the Iraqi gov is reduced,” Ross tweeted.

Dan De Luce, Mosheh Gains and Kristen Welker reported from Washington; Ali Arouzi and Adela Suliman reported from London; Amin Hossein Khodadadi reported from Tehran; and Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo.

The Associated Press contributed.

Iran condemns Babylon the Great’s strikes

Iran condemns U.S. strikes in Syria, denies attacks in Iraq

(Reuters) – Iran on Saturday condemned U.S. air strikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria, and denied responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq that prompted Friday’s strikes.

Washington said its strikes on positions of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group along the Iraq border were in response to the rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq.

Western officials and some Iraqi officials have blamed those attacks on Iran-backed groups.

However, Tehran has denied any involvement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday condemned the U.S. strikes as “illegal and a violation of Syria’s sovereignty” in a meeting with his visiting Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, Iran’s state media reported.

“Zarif said some recent attacks and incidents in Iraq are suspect, and could be designed to disrupt Iran-Iraq relations and Iraq’s security and stability,” the media reports said.

“We emphasize the need for the Iraqi government to find the perpetrators of these incidents,” Zarif was quoted as saying.

Hussein gave assurances that “Baghdad will not allow incidents in this country to be used to disrupt the excellent relations between the two countries”, state media reported.

Progress has been made in talks on Iran’s frozen funds and Baghdad would facilitate Tehran’s access to its funds, Hussein added. Some $6 billion in Iranian funds have been blocked in Iraq because of U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, met Hussein earlier and said Friday’s U.S. air strikes encouraged terrorism in the region.

Hussein is in Iran “to discuss regional developments, including ways to balance relations and avoid tension and escalation” with Iranian officials, according to an Iraqi foreign ministry statement.

An Iraqi militia official close to Iran said the U.S. strikes killed one fighter and wounded four. U.S. officials said they were limited in scope to show President Joe Biden’s administration would act firmly while trying to avoid a big regional escalation.

Washington and Tehran are seeking maximum leverage in attempts to save Iran’s nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, after which regional tensions soared.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry and Mark Potter)

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Babylon the Great strikes ‘Iranian-backed militant’ site

US strikes ‘Iranian-backed militant’ site in Syria: Pentagon

26/02/2021 – 02:22

A rocket attack on a military complex inside Arbil airport that hosts foreign troops deployed as part of a US-led coalition caused serious damage – KURDISTAN 24 CHANNEL/AFP/File

Washington (AFP)

The US military launched an airstrike on facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran-backed militia Thursday, in retaliation for recent rocket attacks on US troop locations in Iraq, the Pentagon said.

“At President Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,” said spokesman John Kirby in a statement.

These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel,” he said.

The US military did not say whether there were any casualties in Thursday’s attack.

Kirby said the target was a border control point used by Iranian-backed armed Iraqi groups including Kataeb Hezbollah and Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada.

It followed three rocket attacks on facilities in Iraq used by US and coalition forces fighting the Islamic State group.

One of those strikes, on a military complex in the Kurdish region’s capital Arbil on February 15, killed a civilian and a foreign contractor working with coalition forces, and injured several US contractors and a soldier.

The attacks in Iraq by groups believed operating under Iran’s direction had laid down a challenge to the new Biden administration just as it opened a door to resumed negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.

The Biden administration says it wants to revive the 2015 accord designed to freeze Iran’s nuclear development.

But it also sees Tehran as a continuing security threat across the Middle East.

Kirby called Thursday’s strikes “proportionate” and said it “was conducted together with diplomatic measures,” including consultation with US partners in the anti-IS coalition.

But he also said that it was designed to de-escalate the situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.

The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel,” he said.

© 2021 AFP