The World this Week

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The World this Week
Iran's lowkey response to the killing of Gen Soleimani, Iraq's resolution against the US troops and Iran's request to India to mediate

  GP Team

The World this Week (TWTW), 11 January 2020, Vol.2, No.2

Sukanya Bali, Harini Madhusudan, Parikshith Pradeep and Yashaskar Shubham Mishra 

International Strategic and Security Studies Programme

Iran responds with lowkey missile attacks on non-serious targets, deescalating the tensions with the US
What happened?
On 8 January, Iran launched 22 missiles, on two bases in Iraq housing US troops. Foreign minister Javad Zarif said, “Iran had taken proportionate measure in self-defense under Article 52, UN Charter”.
Also during the week, Iran announced lifting all limits to uranium enrichment, ending its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  

What is the background?
Head of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Qassem Soleimani was assassinated by the US. Earlier, the US military had launched an air raid against Kataib Hezbollah positions, at five sites, three in Iraq and two in Syria which led to the killing of 25 members and wounded many. Ayatollah Khamenei pledged “harsh” revenge to the assassination of Suleiman, escalating US-Iran tensions.

Trump said that if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets in retaliation, the US will target 52 sites in Iran, some of these sites are very important to Iranian culture. 
During the last year, a series of attacks have been blamed on Iran. In mid-June, Iranian forces shot-down a US military drone. Following this incident, two oil tankers sailing from Saudi Arabia to Singapore and Qatar to Taiwan were attacked at the Gulf of Oman. The US and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for these attacks.

The oil giant Saudi Aramco was attacked, in mid-September and Houthis rebel in Yemen claimed responsibility. The US accused Iran of the attack by saying, “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply."  Iran denied the allegations as meaningless.

In 2019 Trump also designated IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization and has been wary of it spreading its influence in the Middle East.

What does it mean?
The response from Iran appears that it is aimed at diffusing the situation than escalating it. The choice of the targets, the use of missiles and the lack of casualty highlights the nature of the response. The Iranian response seems primary to address the domestic outcry for revenge and gain public trust. The missile attacks are a face saver than a measure of conflict escalation.
With no causality and minimal damage, Iran retaliated in a measured way and played a smart strategy. Iran has been clear in projecting its intensions over the recent US attacks and successfully kept its upper hand in the region, yet preventing further escalation in the Middle East. 

Trump has also not exacerbated the situation, despite his threat to target 52 sites inside Iran.


Iraq passes a resolution demanding  the removal of all foreign troops

What happened?
6 January 2020, in the context of the killing of the Iranian General, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling for the government to expel foreign troops from their country. The resolution read, “The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason.”

The Trump administration, however, rejected the above resolution.  Instead, Trump threatened Iran with sanctions and a bill for billions if they would continue to force the US on the issue and stated, “Washington and Bhagdad should not discuss troop withdrawal.” 

The killing of Gen Soleimani has enraged the Shiite militias and their supporters in Iraq. The Kurdish and Sunni lawmakers have boycotted the parliamentary session that passed the resolution. 

What is the background?
Since 2019, Iraq has been opposing the presence of the US forces on their soil. This sentiment has grown after the success in operations against the ISIS. The trigger point was the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad on 29 December 2019. 

The US has been sensitive about attacks on its Embassy historically since 1979. The December 2019 attacks on the US embassy has enraged the American response.

During the last few years, the US goalposts in Iraq have also been shifting. It started with regime change in Iraq. After overthrowing Saddam, the US stationed its troops to ensure stability in the region. The threat of the ISIS further expanded the American objectives in Iraq. 

During recent months, the US was more concerned about the expanding Iranian footprints in the Middle East and saw Gen Soleimani as a strong actor. For the US, Iraq should be a geo-politically a critical region to address the latest threat – expansion of Iranian influence in the region. 

What does it mean?
The resolution indicates that Iraq doubts the future of the allied mission that has been in the region to fight ISIS. However, there are questions if the caretaker Prime Minister can take such a call and ask for the removal of foreign troops. 

Iraq also does not want to take sides between the US and Iran. 

The US response to the recent resolution of Iraq should undermine its long term interests, as the harsh response from Trump would suggest. Though the Kurdish and Sunni population of Iraq may remain supportive of the US presence, the majority within Iraq seems to influenced by anti-American sentiment. Trump should be more worried about how Iraq looks at the US than responses from Iran.

Tehran calls for Indian mediation between Iran and the US

What happened?

On 7 January, the Iranian Ambassador, Ali Chegeni called for an Indian mediation between the ongoing US and Iran tensions. It comes immediately after Iran launched ballistic missiles against American military bases in Iraq. He insisted India play an active role in brokering peace between the two rival nations.

What is the background?

Globally, tensions escalated preceding an attack on the American Embassy in Iraq. The Americans alleged the role of Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian backed militia after which the Iranian General Qasem Suleimani was killed in a US missile strike. In the backend, Trump’s scrapping of JCPOA, the policy of maximum pressure and Iran’s recent retreat towards its uranium enrichment program has contributed to the rise in tensions.

Iran’s request comes at a point when India remains one of the few countries to have balanced bilateral relations, both with the US and Iran. Despite its stance against Iran’s nuclear enrichment at the International Atomic Energy Agency in the past, India has been active in upholding ties with Tehran. While India’s energy relations have hit new lows, its trade with Iran increased to $17 Billion in 2019 as compared to $13 billion in 2018. 

New Delhi and Tehran’s founding role in the INSTC and Afghan Connectivity through the Chahbahar port has further added meat to the relations between India and Iran.

What does it mean?
First, the failure of JCPOA and the culmination of gaps between the US and Iranian sympathizers in the P5+1 grouping may have pivoted Tehran’s hopes towards India. France, Germany and the United Kingdom’s unsuccessful attempts at narrowing frictions have not yielded much, rather created conflict vacuums.

Second, this is an opportunity to rejig India’s energy diplomacy with Iran, considering the US’s pressure that hampered our oil imports in 2019. It could also help fresh negotiations on India’s engagement in the Farzad-B Gas fields and alter bilateral aspirations on Chahbahar port. India could view this through the prism of strengthening its hold over the Arabian Sea and its reach to Afghanistan.

Finally, while Iran’s expectations should be addressed judiciously, New Delhi must evaluate its potentials and possible ramifications. It becomes apt to quantify India’s Iran-US mediation considering stakes, responsibilities, and dividends. India must tread cautiously keeping in mind global status quos without hurting its geopolitical position. 

Also, during this week … 

Election in Taiwan brings Tsai Ing-Wen back, worrying Beijing 
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen marks her second term in office by registering a win at the presidential elections and defeating Han Kuo-yu of the rival nationalist party. Tsai on Saturday, registered 58 per cent of the votes while her opponent Han Kuo-yu registered 38 per cent and James Soong of the People First Party got the rest 4 per cent of the votes. The election signals strong voters support for Tsai over her tough stance against the Chinese interference over the nation’s sovereignty. The DPP performed poorly in the mid-term elections of 2018, and the possibility of the election of Tsai seemed highly improbable. Though, things took an interesting turn of events to post the unrest and protests in Hong Kong due to the Chinese influence, which in turn gave rise to anti-Chinese sentiments in Taiwan.

Turkey sends troops to Libya 
Russia and Turkey have called for a ceasefire to end the conflict in Libya. The leaders of the two countries met in Istanbul and agreed on a ceasefire, which will come into force at midnight on Sunday. Putin and Erdogan both back the rival sides in the conflict with Turkey backing the UN-supported government and Russia backing General Khalifar Haftar. The call for a ceasefire has come amid a warning by the German foreign minister of a Syria type civil war. Earlier this week Turkey sent troops to Libya strengthen the UN backed government of National Accord in Tripoli.

Angela Markel meets Putin 
German Chancellor Angela Markel meets The Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in Moscow amid the escalating tension in the Middle East. The conflict between Iran and US will be the most crucial topic of discussion. At the same time, Libya, Syria are Ukraine are also expected to be essential points of discussion between the leaders as Putin is considered to hold strong influence in these countries.

Iran shoots down Ukrainian plane
Iran’s revolutionary guards acknowledged on Saturday to accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian International Airlines passenger jet this week, which led to the death of all 176 passengers aboard. After initially denying the reports, Iran accepted the full responsibility of the plane attack. The crash happened hours after Iran launched missile attacks on Iraqi military bases housing American troops.

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