US retaliatory attacks in Iraq: Is the region at risk of conflagration?

US retaliatory attacks in Iraq: Is the region at risk of conflagration?

The USA responds to an attack with dead US soldiers in Jordan with massive air strikes in Iraq and Syria. And that’s just the beginning, threatens US President Joe Biden.

The USA waited for days before announcing its retaliation. The US military then struck on Saturday night. For 30 minutes, American forces said they fired from the air at more than 85 targets in seven locations in Iraq and Syria: command centers, intelligence sites and weapons depots that were reportedly used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and associated militias. The series of air strikes represents a new escalation in the Middle East – even if the Americans deliberately refrained from attacking targets in Iran itself. But US President Joe Biden makes it clear: This is just the beginning.

In retaliation for the deaths of three US soldiers in a drone strike in Jordan, US forces have bombed targets in Iraq and Syria. The bodies were returned to the USA on Friday. Biden paid his last respects at the US Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware. Barely two hours later, air strikes began thousands of kilometers away in Iraq and Syria. The US military emphasized that the timing was a coincidence. The timing of the air strikes was based solely on military considerations – favorable weather conditions.

The US military and the government in Washington said the attacks were aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and militias allied with Tehran. “Our response began today,” said US President Joe Biden. “It will continue at times and places that we will decide.” The US President also emphasized: “The US is not looking for a conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But everyone who wants to harm us must know: If you harm an American, we will respond.”

The US regional command, Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East, said that more than 125 precision missiles or precision bombs were used in the air strikes. The targets included command and intelligence centers as well as missile and drone depots of militias and the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which enabled attacks against US and allied forces. The more than 85 targets were in seven locations.

Iraq: More pro-Iranian militias attacked

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 18 pro-Iranian fighters were killed in the attacks in eastern Syria. Foreigners were among the fighters killed in attacks on positions of pro-Iranian groups near al-Majadin in Deir Essor province, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Meanwhile, security circles in Iraq reported that positions of pro-Iranian militias had been attacked in western Iraq, particularly near al-Kaim on the border with Syria. According to initial information, a weapons depot had been bombed, an Interior Ministry official told the AFP news agency.

A representative of the pro-Iranian Hashd al-Shaabi network confirmed the attack and another attack further south. The Iraqi government condemned the US airstrikes as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.” White House security spokesman John Kirby later emphasized that the US government had warned the Iraqi government in advance of the attacks.

Escalation in the Middle East: Is there a risk of a conflagration?

Biden threatened retaliation immediately after the attack in Jordan, but took his time with how and where. He faced the difficult task of finding a balance: deterring Tehran-backed forces in the region without provoking even harsher reactions; To demonstrate strength and, if possible, prevent the deaths of more US soldiers without completely escalating the situation in the Middle East and risking war with Iran. Whether he succeeded in the balancing act remains to be seen.

The US airstrikes come amid massive tensions in the Middle East as a result of the war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas, which began on October 7th. There are fears that the conflict will expand into a possible direct confrontation between the USA and Iran. The White House has emphasized that it does not want war with Iran.

Since mid-October, there have been more than 165 attacks on bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan where US soldiers or soldiers from friendly nations are stationed. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed responsibility for many of these attacks.

Security expert Allison McManus from the US think tank Center for American Progress described Friday’s counterattack by US forces as a “significant escalation”. However, similar counterattacks in the past had no “deterrent effect”.

USA and Iran always close to war

It is unlikely that the attacks by pro-Iranian groups could stop completely after the US military action. Things could become particularly dangerous if another attack by militias – perhaps due to poor planning and execution – killed more US soldiers. The next step would then be a direct attack on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – and thus a dramatic expansion of the conflict.

Iran and the USA have repeatedly been on the brink of war in the past. In January 2020 – under then-President Donald Trump – the US killed the powerful Iranian general Ghassem Soleimani and the Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in a drone strike in Baghdad. Weeks of military tension followed. The deeper the USA is drawn into the new confrontations with Iran and its allies, the greater the danger that they will develop a dynamic of their own – regardless of the Gaza war, even if it was the trigger.

The USA – as Israel’s closest ally – has come under increased scrutiny from pro-Iranian militias in recent weeks. The attack in Jordan was just the climax of a series of attacks on American targets in the region. Since the start of the Gaza war, there have been more than 160 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria. The USA has already responded with air strikes in both countries. But with the death of the three soldiers in Jordan near the Syrian border, a new dimension was reached. Biden was under great pressure to hit back harder than before.

Pressure on Biden at home

The Democrat is in the middle of the campaign for a second term. Republicans – especially Biden’s predecessor and likely challenger in the next presidential election in November, Donald Trump – recently accused the president of weakness and called on him to finally take action. Agitators like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham even called for a US attack on Iranian soil. That would have been the most drastic and probably most consequential step. Biden decided against it.

However, he makes it clear that there is more to come. “Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing,” he said after the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. High-ranking US government officials had already announced that the retaliation would take place in several steps over a certain period of time. When, where and how the Americans strike next will also depend on what Iran and its allied militias do now.

“The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world,” emphasized Biden. “But for all those who wish to harm us, know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”

A few days ago, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the situation in the Middle East as more dangerous than it has been in half a century. The US government has failed to contain tensions despite breathless diplomacy and various military actions against the Houthis and other pro-Iranian groups in the region. On the contrary. With each new escalation, there is growing concern that a wildfire in the region can no longer be averted. Biden’s government has been repeating for weeks that the USA does not want the conflict to expand and, above all, war with Iran. But the danger is there.

Source: Stern

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