President Joe Biden and Iraqi PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimiy discussed a new spate of rocket attacks on coalition forces led by the U.S. in the state, with both saying those accountable must be held entirely to account.
The analysts say that transformed attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq show Iran-aligned factions are heaping pressure on the Iraqi administration. In contrast, Tehran may be seeking leverage over the new American government.
Iraq has been a strategic battlefield for arch-foes America and Iran, both allies of Baghdad who remain sharply in conflict over Iran’s nuclear program.
Iraqi officials say the recommencement of attacks after four months of relative calm shows that Iran and its allies are now abandoning de-escalation and seeking leverage over their rivals.
In Iraq, a senior American military official briefed AFP news, referring to several months in 2020 when rockets rained down on U.S. sites at least once a week that it seems they’re back to 2020.
On Monday, at least 3 rockets hit near the U.S. embassy in a high-security zone, Baghdad, days after a volley hit an airbase further North where the United States military contractor is maintaining F-16 fighter-planes purchased from Washington D.C.
On February 15, the rockets also strike a military complex in Erbil, the Kurdish region’s capital, killing and a foreign contractor working with US-led troops and a civilian.
The Security officials stated that the attack events were consistent with several attacks in 2020, which often involved a score of 107mm rockets fired from a truck.
Similar Attacking Styles
The pro-Iran groups typically blamed for such attacks in 2021, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, have been quick to condemn the attacks.
However, a few of the security forces convinced.
The United States military official, speaking on anonymity condition, said that all indications are it’s the similar style of attacks and added that intelligence shared with them says there are more to come.
Mr. Mustafa Al-Kadhimiy has pledged to stop the rocket attacks but struggled to hold the groups to account, infuriating the U.S.
The United States threatened in October to close its embassy in Baghdad if the attacks didn’t stop.
Dr. Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi of the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI) says there are domestic considerations as Iraqi armed groups are keen to challenge Al-Kadhimiy’s assertion that he can rein them in.
Increasing Tehran’s Leverage
Local and international, both dynamics may have prompted the resumed strikes.
Dr. Aniseh Bassiri told AFP that they want to remind everyone they haven’t disappeared and show the PM they haven’t been restrained.
Moreover, Bassiri said that with parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2021, these factions flex their muscles.
But the rockets may also carry a message from Tehran to Washington, which under Biden is offering to revive the Iran nuclear deal which his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
Iran wants Washington D.C. to lift sanctions immediately, while America wants Iran to move first by returning to all its nuclear pledges. This week, Iran has struck a tough tone, restricting some nuclear site inspections and cautioning it could further step-up uranium enrichment.
Bassiri added the new attacks could be an attempt by those close to Iran to boost Tehran’s leverage in light of looming talks with the United States.
Financial reasons to Pressure Baghdad
Local and Western officials told AFP that apart from the geopolitical considerations, Iran may also have purely financial reasons to force Baghdad. With its economy squeezed, Tehran is desperate for unfettered access to an account at the government-run Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI), where Baghdad has been paying for imported gas from Iran.
Iraq has been unwilling to disburse around 2B dollars freely, fearing it would anger the United States.
Fuad Hussein, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, and Raed Al-Juhi, the Chief Investigative Judge for the Iraq Special Tribunal, traveled in January to Tehran with a message from Kadhimiy asking Tehran to confine armed groups in Iraq. Both officials met Ismail Qaani, an Iranian brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and commander of its Quds Force after a US drone strike in Baghdad in early 2020 killed his predecessor Qasem Soleimani.
Iraqi official with close knowledge of the meeting told AFP news agency that Mr. Qaani told them that they would not control the armed groups’ activities in Iraq without getting money out of the TBI account. Moreover, one more Iraqi official, a Western diplomat, and an American official confirmed links between the TBI account and the rockets’ threat.
For the time being, still, it is yet to observe how Mr. Biden’s government will respond to the renewed rocket attacks.