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CWA # 207, 25 January 2020

The Middle East in 2020
Iran, Iraq and the US: Who wants what?

  Sukanya Bali

Conflicts that have been part and parcel of the US and Iran relations; the assassination of Qassem Soleimani has however triggered, a new level escalation this New Year. Their relationship has seen its highs and lows, be its Donald Trump increasing sanctions on the Middle East, or Iran's persuasion towards other powers, in search of economic stability. 

What does the United States want? 
The United States has been a dominant player in the Middle East. Overpowering the other countries and keeping them subservient in the region has been its foreign policy agenda. President Donald Trump seeks to pursue four main agenda vis-a-vis Iraq and Iran.

First, the US wants to prevent the increase of anti-American sentiment in Iraq. Second, the protection of its personnel and military assets in Iraq. It wants to secure its troops in the Iraqi base camps and to fight against Hezbollah and other militia groups. Third, the Middle East a resource-rich region contains the busiest international shipping route for oil, through Strait of Hormuz which is a strategically important chokepoint for the world. The US wants to ensure no one power in the proximity becomes powerful. Fourth, with the increasing number of militant groups, the US is concerned over the expansion of Iran through militias, as Iran uses these militias to wage the proxy war against the US regional allies. It was to curtail Iran’s growth in the region; the now-defunct JCPOA was signed. In 2018, the US withdrew from the nuclear deal stating, Iran's support to militia in the Middle East and its ballistic missile development program.

The US wants to prevent any other actor from becoming powerful in the Middle East

What does Iraq want? 
Iraq entered 2020, under the ambit of the US and Iranian retaliation. The killing of a US contractor in the last week of December was followed by a retaliatory missile attack on the US troops camped on Iraqi bases. The chaos has provoked Iraq, chanting against the US presence in the Middle East. On one hand, Iraq wants to prevent its country from being used as a proxy zone, on the other hand, its weak economy and poor governance have led to protests within, October. The fight against Islamic State strengthened Iran backed Shia-Militias in Iraq, which now stage attacks on American assets. 

The January's attack by the US has challenged Iraqi sovereignty. The Iraqi Council of Representatives passed a resolution for the withdrawal of the US troops from the country. Despite the fact today Iraq demands US withdrawal from their region, its economy and security are dependent on the US. 

Security challenge and the economic crisis have increased public distress, raised tension in Iraq. The Iraqi government’s priority is to win back the support from the masses for its elected government, lest the country will descend into chaos.

What does Iran want? 
In Iran, the killing of Qassem Soleimani rose nationalist sentiments. The US maximum pressure has challenged Iranian maximum resistance. The nuclear deal was signed between Iran and five permanent members of UNSC and Germany, 2015. The deal set a code of conduct in helping Tehran’s economy, but the 2018 exit, increased the US sanctions and left European powers as the only hope for the former. The withdrawal of the US, and non-compliance of other European signatories, had led Iran to seek attention from Russia and China in 2020. Iran held joint naval drills with Russia and China in the last week of December 2019. 

In the long-lasting tension with the US, Iran seeks to monitor two major concerns: First, Iran continues with the asymmetric warfare against the US personnel and allies and further establishes organizations like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and Houthis in Yemen, to increase its influence. Second, Iran has been trying to re-establish its control over its energy supply chain in the region. Third, Iran is stoking anti-American sentiments in the Middle East to push the Americans out of the Muslim world  

After the General’s death, Iran gave up its commitments under the nuclear deal and lifted all ‘limits’ of Uranium enrichment.  This is potentially a dangerous step and European powers are making efforts to save the deal. Iran might still be willing for talks, if at least some sanctions are lifted as the economic crises are deepening by the day and people of Iran are unhappy with the government. Iran sees Iraq as a part of its push against the Sunni, Wahhabi, and Saudi expansion in the Middle East.  

To conclude, like Obama, Donald Trump had promised a lot in his election campaign and with the new phase of election coming, all the foreign policy changes taken toward the Middle East will be at full zeal. The US withdrew its troops from Syria, and in between of Afghan peace process, it seems like a whole new phase for Middle Eastern countries. The impulsive decision and involvement in destabilizing further worry some European power. 

Iran's calculated response to the US seemed to be designed to avoid further escalations. But with the attack on Ukrainian flight, domestic disturbance in Iran has once again risen. Iran may likely continue the asymmetrical war against the US and its allies, which will not end the unrest in the region. 
 

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