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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Iran’s proxies at work against US in Iraq after Soleimani’s murder

After Qassem Soleimani’s assassination, the situation in the Middle East has become “incredibly dangerous” for the American troops. There are conflicting reports on whether the USA will leave Iraq or not. But analysts warn Iran will strike back. The question is how and when will Iran retaliate to take revenge?

The United States of America (USA) seems to be confused about its stay in Iraq after killing Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful figure behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While rejecting a letter reportedly issued by USA’s military officer posted in Iraq, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the country has no plans to pull troops out of Iraq.

Defense Secretary made it clear that the Trump administration did not make any decision in this regard. “There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Esper told Pentagon reporters when asked about the letter, adding there were no plans issued to prepare to leave.

While commenting on the authenticity of the letter he said, “I don’t know what that letter is… We’re trying to find out where that’s coming from, what that is. But there’s been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period.”

The authenticity of the letter, which was addressed to the Iraqi defense ministry’s Combined Joint Operations Baghdad and signed by a U.S. general, had been confirmed to Reuters by an Iraqi military source.

It is worth mentioning that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating since Iran and the USA are now fighting against each other on open grounds. Analysts believe that “U.S. and allied forces now face a conflict that pits them against the Islamic State and against Iran’s proxies in Iraq, which were also fighting the Islamic State. This problem is particularly acute in Iraq, where Iran’s proxies are part of the security forces, which are allegedly U.S. partners”.

Will Iran strike back?

Experts and political commentators believe that Iran is likely to strike back due to two factors. Firstly, there is a huge pressure building up in Iran which may compel the leadership to retaliate. As a matter of fact, the Iranian leadership issued charged statements as a sea of black-clad mourners in Tehran paid homage to Qasem Soleimani.

But Iranian military leadership seems to be careful since any ill-thought move may lead to more destruction and embarrassment. Secondly, Iran is likely to react to regain its lost respect. At international as well as regional levels Iran is receiving sympathies since the USA has killed its senior-most general. Therefore, retaliation is the only but dangerous option.

Read more: Iran warns of ‘severe revenge’ after US kills top general

“Soleimani’s martyrdom will make Iran more decisive to resist America’s expansionism and to defend our Islamic values,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a statement. “With no doubt, Iran and other freedom-seeking countries in the region will take his revenge,” he added.

Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for the Middle East and Africa studies and director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), opines that Iran has multiple options to avenge. “It seems more than likely that the Iranians will respond to this attack. That said, they do not want to confront the United States head-on, especially since they have a range of asymmetric options that Iran’s leaders can employ over time. For example, Iran could ramp up its nuclear program and target U.S. interests in Iraq relatively quickly. It could also stir up more violence in Afghanistan, where thousands of U.S. forces remain deployed, and target Americans abroad. Tehran is also active in the cyber world,” he noted.

Read more: Protest-hit Iran says ‘enemy conspiracy’ defeated

Moreover, Cook also thinks that “there is the possibility of violence along the Israeli-Lebanese border stirred up by the Iran-allied Hezbollah militia. Such responses are likely to come at different times and in ways that are intended to drive home the point that even with Soleimani gone, Iran can cause great damage”.

USA should be prepared for more destruction?

Daniel Byman, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, believes that the USA needs to be prepared as Iran is likely to strike back. “Attacks on US forces and facilities in Iraq are particularly likely. Tehran has spent over 15 years building up extensive networks among militia groups and politicians in Iraq”.

He pointed out that Iran was already trying to give a tough time to American troops in Iraq. “Earlier this week, before Soleimani’s death, Iran was able to rapidly mobilize local proxies to violently demonstrate at the US Embassy in Baghdad, creating a grave security risk to personnel there, even as Tehran’s local allies avoided killing more Americans. Now the gloves are likely to come off,” he said.

Read more: Massive rallies throughout Iran to protest US’ killing of Gen. Soleimani

Professor Byman further warns that “the US military forces in Afghanistan and Syria are also at risk, though both are already well-defended due to threats from ISIS, the Taliban, and other dangerous groups. The IRGC and its proxies may also strike at official US embassies and other government-related targets. In 1983, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah blew up the US Embassy in Beirut as well as the Marine barracks there, killing 220 Marines, and dozens of other Americans.