The tension between the United States and Iran over photographs that supposedly show missiles being boarded on ships by Iranian paramilitary forces have caused Iraq to take precautions. According to the New York Times, Iraqi officials have taken steps to warn armed groups tied to Iran within the country to avoid any actions that could lead to provocation. Other countries have taken notice as well, with Al Jazeera reporting that the U.S. has recalled non-essential staff in Iraq and that Germany and the Netherlands have suspended their military training in Iraq to avoid any escalation. Travel to the country has also been discouraged.
“In the military there has to be strict rules and if anyone breaks the rules or does anything outside the plan, they are punished, and the government has not done that,” Salah al-Obaidi, a spokesperson for Iraqi politician Moktada al-Shadr, said to the New York Times. “We have concerns about the possibility that the government cannot control the pro-Iranian groups, and this will be a big problem in Iraq,” he said. Al Jazeera reports that U.S. Central Command have declared that Iran poses “credible and possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq,” causing the U.S. coalition in the country to be on a high level of alert. The New York Times reports that Federica Mogherini, foreign affairs chief of the European Union, has called for “maximum restraint.”
Clear parallels can be drawn between this situation and the 2003 invasion of Iraq under the presidency of George W. Bush in which forces invaded under the false pretence that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had an ongoing weapons of mass destruction program. However, the U.S. lacks the international backing it held then from allies such as Britain and Japan. Mogherini’s suggestion of restraint is a much more advisable policy rather than launching into conflicts over allegations that Iran is encouraging anti-American militias in the region. Though these allegations have been made for years, they have never manifested in any real threat.
The tension between the U.S. and Iran has been rising ever since the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of their nuclear deal with Iran that agreed to suspend sanctions in exchange for limitation on Iran’s nuclear development. Iraq has remained allied with both sides of the dispute as the U.S. and Iran continue to escalate. The AP reports that the country is host to more than 5,000 U.S. troops as well as Iranian-backed militias. The conflict between these forces within the country has become an increasing fear should the friction between the U.S. and Iran escalate into violence. Most recently, the Los Angeles Times reports that a rocket exploded near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and is believed to have been fired from a region populated with Iranian-backed militias.
The Iraqi government should put more pressure on their two allies to stop an escalation that could have violent ramifications for all three countries. Lawmakers who have taken more hawkish positions such as National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should keep the failure of Iraq at the back of their minds when pushing for conflict with Iran, and especially the 461,000 Iraqi lives the BBC reports were lost in the conflict.