Iraq, Between Washington’s 'Drone' and Tehran’s 'Missiles'
With the assassination of Iranian Al-Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi military commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Baghdad has found difficulty in absorbing all the recent transformations.
The country has been witnessing for three months a severe crisis, represented in the broad popular uprising that led to the ousting of the government and the inability of political blocs to agree on a successor for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Confrontation between Iran and the United States escalated. The battlefield was Iraq, the sovereignty of which is questioned by both Tehran and Washington.
Iran believes that Iraq will always lack sovereignty as long as the American soldiers are on its land. The US, for its part, considers that the country will not be able to implement self-control under Iranian influence and proxies.
In the wake of Soleimani’s assassination, which was proudly announced by US President Donald Trump, the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of the foreign forces’ departure from the country. The decision had little effect.
However, the repercussions of Soleimani’s killing confused the political scene in Iraq and the region, especially as the operation changed the rules of the game.
“The killing of Soleimani and Muhandis will have repercussions at all levels, not only within Iraq, but also in the region. The Iranian response will be seen on the Iraqi ground as a fragile land, as well as in other regions such as Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. It will also be seen in European countries, through the networks of the Iranian [Revolutionary Guards],” said Dr. Ihsan al-Shammari, head of Iraq’s Political Thinking Center, during a talk with Asharq Al-Awsat.
Shammari said that Iran would not resort to a conventional war, “because this would lead to the total collapse of the Iranian regime”, adding: “The most powerful consequences will be inside the Iraqi land… especially if American interests continue to be targeted...”
For his part, the head of the Center for Strategic Studies, Dr. Moataz Mohieddin, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The new American force will have specific missions, among other tasks, including targeting leaders of the Popular Mobilization Forces, particularly those who participated in the storming of the US embassy.”
Mohieddin said that the leaders of the armed factions might target US bases and interests, whether near Baghdad airport or other places, “which means that the US response would be stronger than what happened on the airport road.”
In Iran, a wave of angry reactions is awaiting the response of the Iranian leadership to the killing.
Senior religious figures in Iraq, including Ayatollah Ali Sistani, have condemned the US operation.
In general, in Iraq, it can be said that the reactions ranged from self-control to calls for escalation. Religious authorities, President Barham Salih, and Abdul Mahdi have all urged restraint.
“Iraq and the region are going through a hard period. Escalation is obvious, so is the US transition from the strategy of an indirect approach to a targeted and direct tactic,” Dr. Hussein Allawi, President of the Akad Center for Studies and Future Visions, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
According to Allawi, the American presence is facing a challenge as a result of the failure of the Iraqi authority and government institutions to reach consensus over the usefulness of US troops in the country.
This has led the [Shiite] armed factions to reject the continued presence of US soldiers, putting the strategic framework agreement between the two countries at risk.