Washington silent on Iran proxies threatening US citizens in Iraq

It is clear Iran has set a precedent in activating proxies against any country it deems to be moving against its interests.
Saturday 21/09/2019
A poster of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is seen outside the headquarters of the Iraqi militia Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada in Basra. (Reuters)
Direct connection. A poster of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is seen outside the headquarters of the Iraqi militia Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada in Basra. (Reuters)

Iraqi television networks recently aired an interview with Abu Alaa al-Walai, the commander of the Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Shia militia, during which he directly threatened the United States.

Walai said any military action by the United States against Iran would cause his militia and likely countless other Shia jihadist groups linked to Iran to target US citizens in Iraq, whether civilian or military.

Walai vowed that all Americans in Iraq would be taken hostage to force the US government to back down over Iran. His threat should be taken extremely seriously.

Walai’s militia is a proxy of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a political-military formation that uses terrorism and hostage-taking to further the aims and objectives of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s “Islamic” revolution since 1979.

Who can forget the US Embassy hostage crisis that began almost as soon as Khomeini had ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi? A total of 52 US diplomats and civilians were taken hostage by Iranian hardliners who stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and held them for 444 days until they squeezed concessions out of the Carter administration.

A little more than two years later, in October 1983, and while the Iran-Iraq War raged, Iran set its proxies loose once again, this time in Lebanon. The target was a military compound in Beirut that housed US and French peacekeepers deployed as part of a multinational force during the Lebanese civil war.

Apart from the two Iran-backed suicide bombers, 305 people were killed in the attack, including 241 US military personnel, 58 French troops and six civilians.

A couple of months after that attack, both the US and French diplomatic missions in Kuwait were targeted by Iran-backed terrorists, suspected to be members of the Iraqi Dawa Party that has provided most of Iraq’s prime ministers since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Again, trucks carrying explosives rammed into the embassies but faulty rigging meant that many people’s lives were saved, though four civilians were killed. Other attacks in a 90-minute timeframe targeted Kuwait’s petrochemical and water desalination facilities as well as airport infrastructure, killing one civilian

It is clear Iran has set a precedent in activating proxies against any country it deems to be moving against its interests, particularly the United States. Walai and his ilk are the direct descendants of the radicals who perpetrated these and other attacks at Iran’s behest and will do so again at the drop of a hat.

If Washington is serious about tackling Iranian expansionism and threats to US interests and citizens, it cannot remain silent while Iran sics its hounds on Americans and threatens them with violence to extort the world’s most powerful country. Even former CENTCOM commander and Defence Secretary James Mattis said in recently published memoirs that failure by the Obama administration to act forcefully against Iran when it planned to kill Saudi diplomats in Washington allowed Iran to feel emboldened to do more.

The Trump administration cannot afford to make the same mistake. The more unruly Iran becomes, the higher the risk of a much larger conflict. It is a safer strategic undertaking for the White House to begin to clip Iran’s wings now rather than later, particularly in Iraq, which Iran could easily use as a forward operating base in any potential conflict with the United States.

The Americans could do a lot worse than to start with thugs like Walai and begin to neutralise such threats before they become a reality.

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