Security tensions reemerge in the Iraqi arena

Security tensions reemerge in the Iraqi arena

Security tensions reemerge in the Iraqi arena
Above, Iraqi police man a checkpoint at the entrance of Baghdad’s Green Zone where the US embassy is located. (AFP)
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The recent spate of attacks mounted by Iran-aligned groups against Iraqi-based US targets, including diplomatic headquarters, military bases and troops, raises questions about the future of Iraq’s security and stability.

The attacks have taken place since the launch of the all-out Israeli war on Gaza in response to Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, the surprise attack carried out by armed Palestinian resistance factions on Oct. 7. They also raise questions about the future of the Iraqi government and its internal decisions aimed at keeping the state’s institutions intact, as well as the future of the country’s relations with its regional and international partners, which aim to enhance its foreign relations in a way that leads to improving the socioeconomic conditions in Iraq.

These attacks also come in light of the back-to-back US attacks targeting the headquarters and positions of pro-Iran paramilitaries and Washington’s desire to intensify attacks and initiate a decisive response to neutralize the pro-Iran groups, thus delivering a strong message of deterrence.

The Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, announced its rejection of the attacks, which the US administration said were primarily carried out by the Badr Organization, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Sayyid Al-Shuhada, all of which are aligned with Iran. The Iraqi government also issued instructions to the security apparatus to hunt down these groups and bring to justice those involved.

The attacks against the US diplomatic headquarters were categorized as terrorist attacks; however, the response has failed to deter the armed groups from moving ahead with their attacks. The Iraqi government is also not capable of restoring security, with its task made more difficult by the proliferation of weapons, especially in the hands of nonstate actors.

Yet, there are messages that the Iraqi state no longer controls the tools of exerting influence and pressure or having a sway over security decision-making. The armed groups have overridden state decisions since the start of the war in Gaza by warning that they will get involved in the dispute and wage attacks on US targets in Iraq as long as Washington continues to deliver military support for Israel.

The government’s task is made more difficult by the proliferation of weapons, especially among nonstate actors

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Additionally, the day after the launch of Al-Aqsa Flood, it was reported in the Iranian media that a meeting was held in Baghdad that was attended by Iranian officials, including Ambassador Mohammed Kazem Al-Sadegh. Also in attendance were the commanders of some Iraqi militias, such as the leaders of Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, Al-Mujtaba and Kata’ib Hezbollah, as well as the leader of the State of Law Coalition, former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. The meeting was indicative of how far such nonstate actors are overriding Iraqi decisions and sidestepping Iraqi sovereignty.

During the meeting, the Iranian officials called for military preparedness and readiness, the establishment of centers for enrolling volunteers in the war against Israel and the preparation of the road linking Iraq and Syria ready for any emergency that may prompt a transition to the next phase. This is, of course, a breach of Iraq and Syria’s sovereignties, exacerbating their security challenges. The pro-Iran proxies have made their threats come to pass by mounting attacks against US targets in Iraq since the Israeli war on Gaza broke out.

The argument promoted by Iranian experts that the attacks waged by the pro-Iran militias in Iraq and Syria against US targets are primarily aimed at serving the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause by exerting pressure on Israel through attacking the US is no longer cogent. The road to Al-Aqsa does not pass through Iraq or anywhere else.

Rather, the real aim of these attacks is to take advantage of the raging dispute to achieve the Iranian objective of driving US forces out of Iraq, allowing Tehran to assert its clout and operate unchallenged in the Iraqi arena. In this context, the Iranian armed forces’ chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Bagheri, visited Iraq in early December. He attempted to remove any blame that could be assigned to the so-called axis of resistance, which alleges that the Palestinian cause is central to its agenda. Bagheri also tried to improve Iran’s image among Sunni peoples, as Tehran’s soft power and appeal have eroded due to the consequences of its interventions in Arab nations and its inflaming of sectarian disputes.

The pro-Iran paramilitaries are aware that they do not possess sufficient tools of influence in light of the major US presence and support in the Middle East. Therefore, these attacks have only contributed to broadening the war’s scope, meaning it threatens to become a regional war with immeasurable consequences for the Middle East and the world.

The attacks have brought Iraq back to square one, with security tensions reemerging, the country’s security and stability being undermined and the safety of Iraqi civilians being threatened. These tensions mark a break from a streak of relative calm in the country, during which there was talk of the possibility of Iraq ushering in a new era, in which it could bolster its economic, trade and investment potential with several regional and international trading partners. This stage was supposed to be a different one, in which Iraq proceeded toward improving its security and economic conditions.

The resurgence of security turmoil blocks the implementation of several trade agreements and investment ventures. These tensions also stand in the way of delivering regional and international assistance to the country, especially in light of the increasing regional threats resulting from the war in Gaza and Washington’s desire to intensify its military attacks against the armed groups’ positions in Iraq. The US administration accuses Iran of being indirectly involved in the attacks mounted by its aligned paramilitaries.

The escalation of security unrest in Iraq undoubtedly carries with it the potential for political and economic repercussions in a nation already grappling with challenging living conditions. These issues not only fuel domestic discontent but also impede international partners, both in the Gulf states and the wider Arab world, from advancing collaborative trade and development initiatives. Of particular concern are joint projects aimed at enhancing Iraq’s energy sector, such as the Gulf-Iraq electricity interconnection projects.

The Iraqi government is now confronted with significant complexities, hindering its ability to prioritize the nation’s security and stability, collaborate on projects with its trade partners and focus on its future. This situation unfolds within a government affiliated with the Coordination Framework, some factions of which are involved in the series of attacks against US targets.

In conclusion, the attacks against the US’ diplomatic headquarters in Baghdad and other targets, turning the country into an arena for the settling of accounts, will lead Iraq to undoubtedly incur the biggest losses. This is especially because Iraq is at a delicate juncture, where public opinion has a high ceiling of ambition when it comes to rejecting foreign dictates and reliance on a certain regional partner — Iran.

The Iraqis are also pushing their government toward elevating the state’s potential and reducing, rather than exacerbating, domestic crises and challenges. The majority of the Iraqi political and religious actors, primarily the supreme marjaia in Najaf, support restoring the country’s sovereignty and independence and curbing weapons proliferation beyond state control.

All of these factors are crucial pillars for the Iraqi leadership in case it wants to further prioritize national interests and move toward protecting the state and enhancing its foreign interests with regional and international partners.

• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is the founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). X: @mohalsulami

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