Iraq in crossfire of escalating Iran-US tensions
LONDON - Iraq is finding itself in the middle of escalating tensions between Iran and the United States in which Tehran and Washington have accused each other of carrying out hostile activities in Iraqi territory.
Following an attack on the Iranian Consulate in Basra by Iraqi demonstrators, who have been protesting for weeks against poor living conditions in the southern Iraqi city, Iran-backed militias stated that an “American-Saudi conspiracy” was at play to divide the country.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said the attack on the consulate was the result of US policies in the region.
“The recent chaos in Iraq, including the arson attack on the building of the Iranian Consulate in Basra, is the result of their shortsighted and unwise overt and covert support for groups that have promoted violence and extremism and turned them into an ordinary and everyday occurrence,” said Qassemi.
His comments came after the White House accused Tehran of allowing its proxies in Iraq to attack US diplomatic sites.
“Over the past few days, we have seen life-threatening attacks in Iraq, including on the United States’ Consulate in Basra and against the American Embassy compound in Baghdad. Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training and weapons,” said a statement from the White House.
“The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States government facilities. America will respond swiftly and decisively in defence of American lives,” said the statement.
US Republican senators said they would introduce legislation to counteract what they see as increasing Iranian influence in Iraq. The Iranian Proxies Terrorist Sanctions Act would impose terrorism-related sanctions on Iran-controlled militias in Iraq. It would keep a record of militias receiving assistance from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Reuters reported.
Iran accused the United States of supporting Kurdish separatist Iranian militants hiding in Iraqi territories.
Tehran announced that the IRGC fired seven missiles at the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) in northern Iraq. Iran said the attack, in which at least 11 militants were reportedly killed, was a message to the United States.
“The attack against the terrorists in Iraq’s Kurdistan conveys a message to the enemies, particularly those superpowers who think they can impose their evil plots on Iran and bully us,” Iranian Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari told the semi-official ISNA News Agency.
“All those who have forces, bases and equipment within a 2,000km radius should know that our missiles are highly precise,” he warned.
Iran said the strikes were in retaliation for cross-border incursions by the PDKI, which it classifies as a terrorist group.
“The government of Iraq and the Kurdistan authorities should not allow existence of such bases in their territories and should hand over these separatist terrorists to Iran,” Iranian Major-General Mohammad Bagheri told the semi-official Fars News Agency.
“The authorities of Iraq’s Kurdistan had repeatedly tried to stop them but… provoked by some regional countries and America… these separatist terrorists carried out some operations inside Iran,” Bagheri said.
Iran has killed PDKI leaders during special operations inside Iraqi territories, instead of firing missiles from Iran.
The Iranian missile attack drew rare criticism from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. “(Iraq) rejects the violation of Iraqi sovereignty by bombing any target within Iraqi territory without prior coordination with the Iraqi authorities to spare civilians the effects of such operations,” read a statement from the ministry.
Tensions have been mounting between Washington and Tehran since the Trump administration withdrew in May from the 2015 international nuclear accord with Iran, reimposing US sanctionson Tehran.
Reuters reported in August that Iran had given its proxy militias in Iraq ballistic missiles, which would allow Tehran to use Iraqi territory to carry out major attacks against US interests.
“We have bases like that in many places and Iraq is one of them. If America attacks us, our friends will attack America’s interests and its allies in the region,” said a senior IRGC commander.
Iraqi and Iranian officials have dismissed the report.