GP Insights

GP Insights # 209, 4 January 2020

US-Iran tensions heats up with the assassination of Qassem Soleimani
Sukanya Bali

What happened?
Four developments took place in Iraq during this week. The latest one was the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of IRGC, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps'). He was killed in a US airstrike near Baghdad International airport. Iran has called this as an "act of terrorism" and vowed to revenge. 

Earlier this week on 29 December, the US military launched air raids against Kata'ib Hezbollah's positions, at five different sites, three in Iraq and two in Syria. These raids killed 25 members and wounded many. For the US Secretary of State, this was "a decisive response". Protesting the above attacks, on 31 December, a large number of Iraqis stormed the US embassy in Baghdad, chanting "Death to America." in the aftermath,  the US has sought to deploy additional 750 troops to Iraq.

What is the background?
The latest series of events began on 27 December. More than 30 rockets were fired at an Iraqi base camp, killing an American Civilian Contractor and wounding four Americans. The US accused Iran backed militia Kata'ib Hezbollah for this attack, and responded with airstrikes on 29 December as mentioned earlier.

Much before the attacks and counter-attacks of the last week, Iraq was witnessing a series of protest by its people since October 2019. These public protests in Iraq, were against the poor governance, failed political system, dysfunctional economy and increasing foreign intervention. Besides the widespread protests for better governance, there was a steady increase in the anti-American sentiments, especially against the presence of US troops in Iraq.

The recent US air raids triggered the  Iraqi protestors to storm the US embassy, Baghdad on Tuesday. While there is an element of Iranian interferences in Iraq, the US blames Teheran for all the protests and attack on its embassy in Iraq.

Teheran has a stake in Iraq. Iran has been expanding its presence by supporting Shia militias in Iraqi territory to fight against the Islamic state. Iran's policy towards Iraq has an active US component as well. 

The US-Iran tension has turned Iraq into a playground.

What does it mean?
The relation between the US, Iran and Iraq looks complicated, where Iran has been successful in finding a space for itself in Iraq. This week's developments will mean the following: First, with the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, Iran is bound to escalate the conflict in the Middle East. Second, as Soleimani was a face for Iran's foreign intervention in Syria and Iraq, his death will impact Iranian regional influence. 

Third, with the increasing number of external actors, Iraq will become the playground and a source of instability in the region. Fourth, the escalating US-Iran tensions could lead to a China-Russia-Iran triangular partnership, as all three have disputes with the US in the region.' 

Fifth, the recent airstrike has increased threats for US assets in the region, deteriorating the US-Iraq relations. Finally, the problem in Iraq may further divide the Congress and White House in the US. 

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