Mookie’s (Muqtada al-Sadr) ‘Retirement’ From Politics Is Causing Chaos In Iraq. Color Me Surprised

I was going to post a brief entry on the riots and violence in Iraq brought on by Muqtada al-Sadr’s abrupt retirement from Iraqi politics. But as the situation there seems to be stabilizing for now at least, I’m going to hold off on delving into Iraq’s ongoing political crisis and Muqtada’s role in it.

However, I will say that for anyone who served in Iraq between 2003 and 2009, the fact that Mookie’s (Mookie being Muqtada al-Sadr’s coalition-wide nickname back in the day) ‘retirement’ spurred swift violence and threatened to destabilize the entire country should come as no surprise. I’ll leave it at that for now. 😊

Expect to see a Ukraine update tomorrow. Looks like things are ramping up over there to an extent. Definitely worth a post.

US Airstrike targets Iranian Proxies In Syria

The United States launched an airstrike on Thursday evening against a border crossing point on the Syria-Iraq border that has been utilized by a Iranian-supported militant groups in the past. The attacks came in response to recent rocket attacks against US and coalition personnel in Iraq and the continued threat that Iranian proxy groups pose to them and their operations. This was the first US military action taken under the direction of President Biden. The decision for the attack was made after the Biden administration consulted with US allies. Shortly after 6 PM Eastern Time two F-15E Strike Eagles dropped JDAMs on multiple targets at the border crossing point.

The United States has stated it ultimately holds Tehran responsible for the actions of Iranian proxies. Thursday’s airstrike is proof that the Biden administration plans to hold firm to this policy. At least on the surface. A single US airstrike against a target with no viable connection to the recent rocket attacks in Iraq gives the impression of being little more than a slap on the wrist, as well as a message to Iran at best. These renewed attacks are a tactic being used by Tehran to increase pressure on Iraq’s government and simultaneously seeking leverage over the new US administration. After a brief period of calm late last year, the situation in Iraq returned to one more reminiscent of earlier in 2020 with regular attacks being made against Iraqi government and US military targets.

Practically speaking, last night’s airstrike should have no effect on US attempts to negotiate with Iran over the future of JCPOA compliance. Of course, should Tehran find it in their best interests to use the attack as a bargaining chip, it will. The White House needs to keep that in mind.

Christmas Weekend Update: Brexit Deal & Iran

Merry Christmas! Well, a slightly belated Merry Christmas, but a sincere greeting nonetheless. 😊  I hope that all of you enjoyed the holiday. I know this has not been the most typical Holiday Season, but most of us are trying to do the best we can, given the present circumstances. The last week has been active on the international front. As we look forward to the final full week of 2020, some long running dramas are coming to a close while hints of what may loom on the horizon are starting to show.

Foremost is the Brexit finality. Negotiators from Great Britain and the European Union have agreed on a Brexit deal with less than a week remaining before the transition period ends. With a deal now in place the prospect of a messy, disruptive no-deal Brexit can now be laid to rest. The majority of outstanding issues between the UK and EU have been settled and compromises reached.

Now comes the point in time for all of the pundits and talking heads to find a new angle that satisfies their “Brexit is Bad” bylines. Some journalists have made a career out of predicting for the past four years how Brexit would never come about for a myriad of reasons. Instead of admitting the were wrong, eating crow and moving on to a new subject, they’re going to beat the dead Brexit horse for the time being. Oh well, no surprise there.

Iranian proxy groups in Iraq have been busy over the past ten days. Responsibility for the failed rocket attack on the US embassy in Baghdad was placed on Iranian shoulders by the Trump administration. Tehran has, naturally, denied playing a role in the attack. Despite its insistence, Iranian involvement is very likely. The Iranian government has been seeking a way to strike back at the US following a year in which Iran has not been able to respond effectively to US, Saudi, and Israeli actions in the region. There’s growing concern that the Iranians are preparing to conduct a fresh wave of attacks against US and Israeli targets. The one-year anniversary of Qassem Soleimani could be used as an occasion to begin these attacks.

US Reducing Its Embassy Staff In Iraq

The United States is in the process of downsizing the staff of its embassy in Baghdad and other diplomatic facilities around Iraq. The Trump administration is taking the action in light of rising tensions with Iran. The recent death of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and the approaching one-year anniversary of Qasem Soleimani’s death are the catalysts for the spike in tensions.  According to a State Department official, the reduction will not be permanent. The number of diplomats and staff members expected to depart Iraq has not been released, nor have any other specifics. U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller will remain at his post for the time being.

The US embassy in Baghdad was targeted by Iranian-aligned militias earlier in the year, prompting a threat by President Trump to close the embassy indefinitely. The closure never came about, yet the threat was real enough to worry Iraq’s leadership, which has been striving to maintain profitable relationships with both Iran, and the United States.

The Trump administration continues to place sanctions on Iran for the purpose of undermining Tehran’s efforts to further progress on its nuclear program. As an added incentive, the administration is hoping further sanctions will make it increasingly difficult for an incoming Biden administration to return the US to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCOPA). Even though Biden’s foreign policy advisers seem to be giving the impression that a Biden administration’s first challenge will be China, recent moves by Tehran make it clear that Iran and its nuclear ambitions could demand the new administration’s full attention very early on.

Targeting Soleimani was the Right Choice

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President Trump made the right decision in ordering the airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general officer and commander of the Quds force. He was a legitimate target, a man responsible for previous attacks against US interests in the region. The US government was current on Soleimani’s activities, and keenly aware of the reasons for Soleimani’s presence in Baghdad  Even more significant than his status as a legitimate target, is the fact that Soleimani was a terrorist responsible for the deaths of Americans. To not take advantage of the opportunity to neutralize him would’ve been irresponsible at the very least. The Trump administration’s handling of Iran has been strikingly different from how the Obama administration dealt with Iran. It’s more than fair to say President Trump’s approach has been far more effective. In this case, the president wasted no time, took decisive action, and dealt a considerable blow to Iran’s Quds force, and to Tehran’s shadowy activities across the region.

Having said all of that, we are going to see an Iranian response and possibly soon. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wasted little time in vowing revenge for the killing of Soleimani. This morning has seen much speculation in media circles as to what form Iranian retaliation will take. This matter has also been analyzed at length on this side of the fence by the US intelligence community, Pentagon, and outside advisers brought in to consult.

In short, the conclusion drawn is that the coming Iranian action will not adversely affect the calculus in the Persian Gulf area for US forces, or national interests. In all likelihood, the response will follow along the same lines of previous action, meaning attacks against US embassies, rocket strikes on bases where US troops are stationed, and perhaps a resumption of strikes against oil tankers operating in the Strait of Hormuz and Red Sea. Iran may also seek to punish US allies in the region for what Tehran views as their complicity in the killing of Soleimani. The coming 24-36 hours will reveal much about the direction Iran has chosen.

In any event, it did not take long for 2020 to produce its first geopolitical crisis.