Skip to content

The War Between Iran And The USA Started In Iraq

January 3, 2020


The last weekend of 2019 saw Iraq pushed to war as Iran’s proxies attacked US forces stationed in the country. The resulting death of an American citizen, a contractor stationed in the K-1 airbase, and injuries sustained by four soldiers provoked a lethal response by CENTCOM. On December 30 air strikes on five locations–three in Iraq and two in Syria–by F-15E’s left 25 members of Kataib Hezbollah dead. By December 31 crowds of men carrying yellow flags entered the Green Zone then rushed the US embassy and set its guard house on fire. While there was no loss of life during the incident 100 marines were flown in from Kuwait and 750 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne were assigned to Iraq by January 1.

The US Embassy in the Green Zone is now guarded by marines and its perimeter secured by Iraqi special forces. The crowds dispersed and subsequent US actions have left the world on edge for another crisis in the Middle East.

The minor incidents leading to the siege of the US Embassy form a months long pattern where Iranian militias, who are led by Iranian agents commanding Iraqi volunteers, harassed US forces with surprise attacks. These often involved lobbing mortars at bases where US soldiers are stationed. But on December 27, a Sunday, a salvo of rockets struck the K-1 airbase in Kirkuk and killed an American citizen. It was later found out the improvised launcher was a truck loaded with 107 mm rockets manufactured in Iran. The rockets themselves are of Chinese design but Iran’s state-owned armaments sector mass-produces them.

The perpetrators of the December 27 rocket attack are Kataib Hezbollah, a militia recognized as an Iranian proxy, whose previous activities include building up an impressive arsenal outside the Iraqi armed forces. Iran-funded militias flourished in Iraq when ISIS took over Mosul and seized swathes of territory. Up to 100,000 Iraqi volunteers were organized by local politicians and Iranian agents as a counter against ISIS. The militias supported by Iran didn’t bother to conceal their affiliations; generous quantities of arms and other heavy weapons reached them with little oversight from Baghdad. Once given legal cover as “Popular Mobilization Forces” these PMFs, who are also referred to as PMUs, were responsible for retaking entire cities and provinces; the recapture of Tikrit and Kirkuk was only possible thanks to the PMFs efforts. The drawn out fight to liberate Mosul, on the other hand, saw PMFs sidelined by the US-led coalition in favor of Iraq’s regular military.

Kataib Hezbollah are a small organization with extraordinary reach. Not to be confused with Hezbollah from Lebanon, whose advisors had a major role in the Syrian Civil War, Kataib Hezbollah are based in Iraq but were in the process of establishing a logistical network extending to Eastern Syria. The group’s targeting of the US may have originated after their leader, a longstanding Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) agent who uses the alias Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, received orders from Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani to attack US forces in Iraq from mid-2019 onward. These clandestine meetings (Soleimani makes regular trips to Iraq) were taking place as recently as three months ago. The hostile mob that gathered outside the US embassy on December 31 carried the yellow flags of Kataib Hezbollah and left incriminating graffiti. Their purpose was a show of force after the airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah’s infrastructure with the implied threat they might attempt to kill embassy staff. Had they broken through the embassy entrance a battle would have ensued between them and armed contractors. Two Apache gunships hovering over the Green Zone were photographed launching flares for deterrence purposes. By nightfall, however, V-22 Ospreys flying from Kuwait brought the first marines to the embassy.

An inconvenient revelation during the New Year standoff was the attendance of Iraqi VIPs with ties to the PMFs. Foremost was Al-Muhandis himself along with dozens of unarmed men in military uniform. Rather than press on and impose a siege on the embassy, with news of the Trump administration sending more forces to Iraq, the PMFs disappeared by January 1. A day later the US retaliated against Al-Muhandis while he was leaving Baghdad International Airport in a convoy. Among the dead was Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the dreaded leader of the Quds Force, and several other persons of interest connected to the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). News of Suleimani’s death grabbed world headlines and fueled speculation that a regional war is now underway. Whichever way Iran chooses to respond after the killing of its most popular soldier it removes any ambiguity about its relationship with the US. Any hope for diplomatic compromise is gone and open warfare in a “proxy theater”–the whole of Iraq and perhaps Syria–is now anticipated.

The Department of Defense released this statement to confirm Soleimani’s death:

At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.

General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.

This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.


Comments are closed.