Biden administration sending wrong message to Iran regime
The Iranian regime has begun testing the Biden administration by escalating its aggressive and belligerent policies in the region. A barrage of rockets on Saturday targeted an airbase in Balad, north of Baghdad, where a US defense company is based. A few days before that, a dozen rockets struck coalition forces at a US base next to Irbil international airport, northern Iraq. Six people were wounded and a civilian contractor with the American-led anti-Daesh coalition was killed. The Kurdish authorities had to close the airport for a short time and warned residents to stay at home.
Shiite militant group Saraya Awliya Al-Dam (the Guardians of Blood Brigade) claimed responsibility for the attack on Irbil. It has also threatened to cause more bloodshed. According to the Site Intelligence Group, a nongovernmental organization that monitors the online activities of armed organizations, the militia group said in a statement: “The American occupation will not be safe from our strikes in any inch of the homeland, even in Kurdistan, where we promise we will carry out other qualitative operations.”
The Iranian regime most likely sponsors this little-known militia group. It is also likely that Saraya Awliya Al-Dam launched the rockets in order to win the approval of the Iranian regime.
Iran is already known to support a conglomerate of militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). These groups ratchet up the conflict in Iraq by engaging in various crimes, including torture, indiscriminate attacks and unlawful restrictions on the movement of people fleeing the fighting. They have also become skilled at using sectarianism as a tool to gain power and further Iran’s parochial, religious and political ambitions. The Tehran regime has even pushed the Iraqi government into recognizing the PMU members as “legitimate” groups, incorporating them into the state apparatuses and making Baghdad allocate wages and ammunition for them.
It is important to point out that the Iranian regime still intends to take revenge on the US for Qassem Soleimani’s killing. More than a year after the Quds Force commander’s death, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to mention him in his speeches. He warned last month: “Those who ordered the murder of Gen. Soleimani as well as those who carried this out should be punished. This revenge will certainly happen at the right time.” Taking revenge for Soleimani’s killing is critical for the regime, partially because Tehran has never faced such a major humiliation in its four-decade rule. It wants to show its proxies, militia groups and hard-line base that it is not weak. Furthermore, taking revenge against the US would deter Washington and other parties from targeting Iranian officials in the future.
What is now crucial for the ruling clerics of Iran is how the new US administration will respond to these attacks. Unfortunately, not only has the Biden administration not taken a firm stance, it last week announced that it would not be pursuing the previous administration’s efforts to reimpose UN sanctions on the Iranian regime. This move outraged several American lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who said: “Not long after Iranian-backed forces attacked Americans in Iraq, President (Joe) Biden is desperately trying to re-enter a failed deal and provide sanctions relief to the Iranian regime. The president must make clear that he understands that Khamenei cannot be trusted to honor international agreements, and that the United States will not play into the hands of the Iranians for the next four years.”
By reversing the Trump administration’s call to reimpose UN sanctions, Biden also appears to be in agreement with the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran. Tehran’s leaders scored a major political victory against the US, its allies and regional powers when the UN Security Council in August voted down a proposal to extend its 13-year-old arms embargo on Iran. The embargo was lifted in October in spite of the fact the regime was violating all of the restrictions of the nuclear deal, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Biden administration has also lifted restrictions on Iranian diplomats traveling to the UN headquarters in New York.
By turning a blind eye to its aggression, the US is only empowering and emboldening Tehran.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
In addition, after the first attack in Iraq, the Biden administration announced that it was ready to meet with the Iranian leaders to discuss re-entering the 2015 nuclear deal. In a statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program.”
By turning a blind eye to Iran’s aggression, the Biden administration is only empowering and emboldening the Tehran regime, which will further escalate its military adventurism and destructive behavior in the Middle East.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh