On the 30th of March 2020, the United States deployed two batteries of the Patriot air defense missile system to U.S. bases in Iraq. The U.S. has referred to multiple rocket attacks on their bases in past weeks as justification for the deployment.
The blame for these attacks has soundly been placed on Iran. AFP reports that the two Patriot missile systems have been deployed at Ain al-Assad base and a base near Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, while there may still be a further two batteries waiting in Kuwait to be deployed. The Jerusalem Post reports that the U.S. has had the radar component of the Patriot system in Iraq for several months now, however the missiles have not been allowed in the country due to diplomatic red tape.
The Iranian foreign ministry was quick to denounce the move and claimed the deployment was “counter to the official position of the Iraqi government, parliament, and people”. However, the Iraqi government has not commented on the deployment. The Stars and Stripes magazine quoted a Pentagon official on Wednesday who claimed the deployment was “to protect Iraqi, coalition
and U.S. service members from a variety of air threats”. The level of cooperation between these defense partners in this deployment remains questionable.
What remains unclear if Washington received approval from Baghdad for the deployment. Al Jazeera news reports that the two parties had been in discussions around the deployment since January, although it was uncertain whether an outcome had been reached. Baghdad has previously been reluctant to allow Iraq to act as a base for U.S. forces during the ongoing confrontation with Iran. The WSJ reported in January that the Iraqi Parliament had voted to expel all U.S. forces from the country in the aftermath of the strike on Soleimani. However, the U.S. forces remain in the country in numbers at least exceeding 5,000.
The U.S. decision to deploy the Patriots in Iraq has been complicated by several factors over the last few months. U.S. forces in Iraq are currently there at the invitation of the Iraqi government and must make direct requests to bring in new weapons for the defense of U.S. troops. The U.S.’s presence in Iraq is officially to act as a part of the coalition against ISIS, therefore attacks like the one against Soleimani further complicated the situation and drew all parties involved into unchartered territory.
If the Iraqi government has not provided permission for the deployment of the Patriot missiles then the U.S. has directly breached their sovereignty and should be held to account accordingly. It is blatant actions like this that if left uncriticized lead to further instability in the region and the erosion of important diplomatic norms that are critical to building lasting peace.
The deployment of patriots comes after attacks on U.S. Iraqi bases in recent months. The U.S.A. Today claimed that in January, missile attacks were conducted on U.S. bases that injured up to 100 soldiers. These attacks were a response to the unsanctioned U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Many international legal scholars have claimed the strike to be
illegal under international law and a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.
These incidents are evidence of the wider geopolitical conflict between the United States and Iran in the Middle East. Should small but significant violations of international norms and laws like this continue, lasting peacebuilding efforts in Iraq will be tested. While these patriot missiles may be deployed in defense of U.S. troops, their role in escalating wider regional tensions can not be downplayed.
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