#39 Congress – Put Out the Fire in Iraq!

Iran and the Washington’s battle for hegemony in Iraq has reached a flash point and the next provocation on either side could set off a war. The fuse has been lit and no cooler heads can be found to douse it.

The Enemy of Our Enemy is Our Enemy

U.S. forces returned to Iraq in 2014, at the request of the Iraqi government, to combat ISIS. ISIS in Iraq has been decimated.  However, after the defeat of ISIS the rationale for troop presences changed. According to the Trump administration, the U.S. must remain there to combat the influence on the Iraqi military by Iranian militias.

These militia make up Iraq’s Fatah Alliance. The same units that we cooperated with to defeat ISIS. The Fatah alliance includes the Kata’ib Hizbollah, this is the group that the US recently accused and attacked in retaliation for a strike that killed a US contractor. These strikes have brought havoc to the US Embassy in Bagdad.

The attacks on the American embassy in Bagdad evokes memories of Tehran forty years ago. My only hope is that this does not end like the 1979 hostage situation or the deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in Libya’s second city Benghazi or for that matter the embarrassing evacuation of the Saigon embassy in 1975.

Congress Do Your Job!

First off, Congress where are you? You must determine if our military presence in Iraq still justified, whether by the Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) passed after 9/11, or by the 2002 Congressional vote to support the invasion of Iraq? It is well over due for Congress to vote to bring all our troops home from Iraq. Why does the U.S. still have approximately 5,000 troops plus an unknown number of private contractors in Iraq nearly seventeen years after our invasion?

U.S. military personnel are in Iraq supposedly on an anti-ISIS mission.  Under the Trump administration, there appears to have been mission creep, in Iraq as well as Syria, in which somehow confronting Iran has become part of a new mission.

That mission has never been justified. No one has explained exactly how the current Iraqi-Iranian relations threatens U.S. interests. Seemingly forgotten among all this is how Iran, and the Iraqi elements it supports, have been performing anti-ISIS mission, the same mission of the U.S. deployment.

 US policy have been heavily influenced by an unhealthy Iran obsession, making American troops and personnel less safe. Washington refuses to see things from the adversary’s side. They are constantly misjudging what will and won’t provoke anger and attract more attacks. They continually keep the American military presence in Iraq in a perilous state. Unfortunately, it seems that only more Americans killed will wake up a public outcry to force someone, anyone to put on the breaks to this foolishness.

Is That You, Israel?

Considering the course of events since July of 2019, the latest bombing and retaliation episode was very predictable. Attacks began on July 19 when a Israeli drone dropped explosives onto a PMU, a Fatah Alliance group, base near the town of Amerli, in Salahuddin Province, killing at least one resistance fighter and injuring four others.

Another Israeli drone attacks struck Sunday, August 25th a PMU convoy near the Iraqi town of al-Qa’im close to the Syrian border. It killed Kazem Mohsen, 45th PMU Brigade logistical support chief and severely wounded another fighter.

In a statement released in August 2019, Iraq’s Fatah Alliance held the United States accountable for the drone strikes on PMU bases over the past few weeks, which were reported to have been carried out by the Israel.

The PMU said that the deadly strike was launched under “air cover over the area from American planes.” “While we reserve the right to respond to these Zionist attacks, we hold the international coalition, particularly the United States, fully responsible for this aggression, which we consider a declaration of war on Iraq and its people.” It also called for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, stressing that they are no longer needed there.

Oops, I Left Out Some Information!

At a press briefing January 2nd, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said there had been a sustained campaign by Kataib Hezbollah against U.S. personnel since at least October and the missile attack in northern Iraq was designed to kill. No mention of any correlation between the Israeli’s deadly drone attacks an the Kataib Hezbollah retaliations.

During the same press briefing, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday there were indications Iran or forces it backs may be planning additional attacks, warning that the “game has changed” and it was possible the United States might have to take preemptive action to protect American lives. What does that even mean? Preemptive war, 1967 style?

Warning Missed

On November 8th, 17 Katyusha rockets were fired at an Iraqi military base south of Mosul that houses U.S. troops.  “If they hit that base and if you had dead U.S. servicemen, that would certainly be a red line where we could be hitting something in Iran, could we be bombing (Iranian port) Bandar Abbas? Potentially,” former CIA analyst Helima Croft said. “Iraq is where I think this whole thing comes to a head.”

Responsibility for those rocket attacks were not claimed and no casualties were reported, but commodities expert and Croft warned of the dangerous risk that could bring the U.S. into further confrontation with Iran. Hardline Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have been regularly threatening to attack Americans inside the country.

On Friday, December 27th Croft’s warning came to fruition. The Friday volley of some 30 107mm Katyusha rockets hit the K1 base which houses Iraqi and U.S. troops near Kirkuk, Iraq. The casualties from this attack included one killed U.S. contractor (mercenary/contractor?) two Iraqi and four U.S. soldiers were wounded.

 Instead of investigating to confirm the culprits – ISIS remnants, disgruntled locals, Kurds who want to regain control over Kirkuk – almost immediately the U.S. declared that Kata’ib Hizbullah was the group guilty of the attack. Maybe they were  the guilty but where is the proof? Didn’t we learn anything about the OPCW scandal. What scandal?That’s right the media ignored that!

Pompeo Must Go!

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had informed Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi of the US retaliatory attack ahead of time. The prime minister asked him to call it off, and then publicly condemned it, calling it an unspeakable, vicious assault that will have dangerous consequences. How can we claim to be in Iraq to protect their democracy when we are obviously violating their sovereignty? 

Pompeo turned a deaf ear to the Iraqi official and proceeded with the plan. In response to the repeated attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces, U.S. forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria that will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces.

The five targets include three Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) locations in Iraq and two in Syria. These locations included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations that KH uses to plan and execute attacks on OIR coalition forces.

All of the KH positions that were hit were in the western Anbar desert, 450 kilometer away from Kirkuk. KH has bases on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border where it is engaged in fighting the still active ISIS.

The results of the air strikes were devastating, accounts of those attacks follow:

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai – 6:20 UTC · Dec 30, 2019                                                              The al-Qaem/al-Bukamal border station is the only open one between Iraq and Syria which is not under U.S. control. The U.S. was furious when the Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi allowed it to be established. It was previously attacked by Israel which had launched its assault from a U.S. air force base in east Syria.

TØM CΛT @TomtheBasedCat – 6:11 UTC · Dec 29, 2019                                                                It wasn’t just Hezbollah Battalions members who were affected, there are also wounded among the ranks of the Missiles Forces / Rocket Battalion which is considered a separate unit apart from the numbered brigades. The strikes were designed to kill those who still fight ISIS in its most virulent hide outs:

Rania Khalek @RaniaKhalek – 18:44 UTC · Dec 29, 2019                                                          The PMF group that was hit by the Americans has been fighting ISIS for years. They were on the front lines protecting Iraq from ISIS in Syria and engaged in the ongoing battles with ISIS in the Syrian and Iraqi deserts. They were THE line of defense.

Eye For An Eye?

The American attack on this PMF group was a disproportionate act of revenge and has created a threat to regional security. The  over zealously strong U.S. response, taken from a page of Israeli retaliatory manual, was a huge blunder.  The act has put the U.S. personnel and other official in Iraq in harms way. It’s hard to believe that the world’s number one super power has to get into a fight with a small militia 7,000 miles away.

The five targets casualties included twenty-five fighters, including commanders, were killed in the airstrikes in Iraq. Another 51 fighters were wounded, the group has warned that the death toll could increase.

What Is It Called – When You Attack Iraqi Force in Iraq?

While the militia targets are closely tied to Iran, many Iraqis see it primarily as an Iraqi force and were angered by an attack on it by an outside power. “We are talking about a foreign force attacking an Iraqi force,” said Maria Fantappie, the senior adviser on Iraq for the International Crisis Group.

The populist cleric Moktada al-Sadr, for instance, urged the militias to abandon “irresponsible actions,” saying he would work with them to use legal and political means to kick out the Americans.

Analysts also said the scale of the American attack — on five sites in two countries with two dozen people killed — made it likely that Kataib Hezbollah would feel compelled to respond and could rally anti-Americanism.

The US attack on Iraqi government paramilitary forces has only added to seriousness, with officials calling it a “sinful violation” of Iraqi sovereignty. Though US officials have routinely presented Ketaib Hezbollah and other PMU militias as “Iranian forces,” there was no real mystery that they are part of the Iraqi government’s formal security forces.

The State Department’s comments suggest that the two sides are on the verge of open hostilities. PMU leader Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, a high-ranking Iraqi government official, is threatening a retaliatory response against the US as Trump threatening more attacks if there is any retaliation.

This is a very dangerous situation, US-Iraq ties are collapsing. What does this means for 5,000 US troops already in Iraq? Bring all the troops home!

 

 

 

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