Tension in the Middle East may again be reaching critical mass as recent events in Iraq have created a difficult situation for the region. While originally the United States targeted the Kataib Hezbollah militia, supported by Iran, in response to a deadly attack on one of its military contractors blamed on that group, recent anti-American protests have been replaced by the specter of war as they additionally killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani (who was visiting Iraq). Iran’s Supreme Leader has warned of major consequences following the attack, suggesting that this provocation will be returned.
These rather dire and complex events follow some months of unrest in the often violent protests against the Iraqi Government. While it is not certain to what extent anti-American and anti-Iranian sentiments have shaped the protests, they have become part of an effort to force a change in Iraq’s government – perceived to be corrupt and failing to help its citizens. Surrounding this has also been a persisting effort through Iraq’s government to get the United States to remove troops, the most recent of which arrived after the defeat of ISIS in Syria. Needless to explain that with the greater tensions between Iran and the U.S., their interfactional differences in the winding up of the war on ISIS, and the adding of the protests in Iraq, it was probably only a matter of time before both countries were involved in a direct provocation. Iraq, which could once be seen as a buffer nation between the two rivals, looks to now be in an impossible situation.
While originally this piece was going to be about growing U.S. disenfranchisement within Iraq, spilling out into various protests like at the unexpected and dramatic New Year’s Baghdad U.S. embassy demonstration, these recent and serious developments underscore a long history of American misadventures in and around Iraq worth examining too. Originally their friend until President Bush Senior defeated Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and President Bush Junior invaded and destabilized the country on false pretenses, American misleadership has ironically created a scenario where bad consequences have multiplied across the region. Iraq, once a stronger and stable nation, is now closer to Iran and has probably suffered more from United States occupation than under one strongman. The rise and fall of ISIS, which sprouted late from the 2003 invasion, is significant evidence for that idea too. While President Trump has insistently commented that he wants to leave the Middle East behind, after defeating ISIS, his Iran policy does not appear to give him room to leave Iraq given recent developments. It is difficult to say what will happen next considering the geopolitical history of the region, including that of Iran, other than to conclude it will probably not be good for Iraq, its neighbor, or its permanent guest.
This does not mean that the sins of the past cannot be resolved. In fact, a wise and once-popular President once said: “peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means”. He also, while not perfect when it came to intervening around the world, recognized after a disastrous loss of personal in 1983 that some conflicts could not be solved with military presence. Even though President Reagan had problems with Iran during his time too, his advice shows that Trump can still have a chance to win the day through diplomacy. Naturally, much has to be fixed before the U.S., Iran, and Iraq can escape the shroud of war. Now only time will tell if the former dovish candidate will keep his promise or if he will follow the folly of the Bush’s and the military-industrial complex.
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