Marseilles (Brussels Morning) In the background of the withdrawal of American military personnel from Afghanistan, the US conducted precision strikes against pro-Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq on June 28. In response to this, Iran-backed militias carried out rocket attacks against the US embassy in Baghdad, as well as the Ayn al-Assad air base on July 8.
As a result, while no fatalities were suffered, several American servicemen were injured. President Joe Biden’s administration has stated that it will lower the threshold for responding to attacks and provocations by pro-Iranian groups.
The confrontations between Washington and Tehran on Iraqi territory have been significantly intensifying following Donald Trump’s decision to re-impose sanctions on Iran in 2019, after the withdrawal from the so-called Iranian Nuclear Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Tensions and clashes further intensified after the Iranian general and commander-in-chief of the elite al-Quds units in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Kasem Soleimani, was killed on January 2, 2020 near Baghdad International Airport. As a result, Iraq’s government took a non-binding vote for the withdrawal of US forces from the country.
Inter alia, China and Russia have been expanding their own influence in Iraq and the wider region. In June 2020 Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr, commander of the US Central Command, described the Middle Eate as a Wild West arena of competition where Beijing is using its economic influence to establish a long-term strategic ‘beachhead’. Regarding Moscow, Gen.
McKenzie stated that the Kremlin is using limited high-intensity deployments of military assets on the one hand to disrupt US influence and on the other to create an image of a global player regarding the Middle East. Taking into consideration that Russia, China, and Iran have almost certainly already been able to ensure the survival of the rule of Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria despite of the severe human rights abuses and Western sanctions, it is highly likely that they will now shift their focus to challenging US influence and interests in other parts of the region.
Pro-Iranian militia attacks on US sites in Iraq and Syria are likely to intensify in the short term. For its part, Washington will almost certainly lower the threshold for responding to strikes and provocations. At the same time, it is very likely that in the coming weeks the US will launch precision strikes and operations against pro-Iranian forces and militias in the Middle East. As a result of these clashes, it is very likely that the situation in Iraq will be further destabilised.
Under the pretext of de-escalating tensions, it is possible that in the coming weeks China and Russia will call for the resumption of the nuclear deal with Iran, as well as the creation of diplomatic formats to de-escalate clashes. Nevertheless, any concessions by the White House will almost certainly increase the influence of Beijing and Moscow in the region. Given the overall situation in Iraq and the need for the United States to strengthen its deterrence capabilities, the Biden administration is likely to seek the support of its NATO and EU allies.