The Iranians are taking advantage of the chaos and power vacuum in Iraq to solidify themselves in the country. They are now stockpiling a number of short-range missiles in Iraq. This is part of their plan to increase their leverage across the Middle East and to check the influence of the United States and Israel in the region.
Massive protests have unfolded in Iraq. They have paralyzed the country and forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign. Some of the protests, however, are against the strong Iranian influence in the country. Many Iraqis are claiming that Iranian proxy militias have attacked protesters.
Iraqis know that Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani, along with the Lebanese Hezbollah, is trying to convince Shi’ite and Sunni political forces to choose an Iranian-favored candidate to replace Abdul Mahdi.
The Iranians are experiencing violent protests of their own these past months. U.S. officials estimate that over 1,000 Iranians have been killed and 7,000 arrested in the violence that is sweeping the nation. A video that was sneaked out of the country shows Iranian security forces shooting at unarmed civilians.
But while the Iranian government is cracking down violently against its own people, it sees an opportunity in Iraq. The Iraqi protests, the resurgence of ISIS and the confusion in the Iraqi government after the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi, have opened the door for Iran to entrench itself further in the territory of its erstwhile enemy. And it’s doing exactly that.
The United States, contrary to what the Trump Administration had stated its goal was, has since last May increased troop strength in the Middle East by 14,000. These troops have been deployed mainly on ships and in missile defense units. Beginning in May, the Iranians began attacking oil tankers in the Gulf as well as targeting U.S. interests.
Reports have been coming out of Iraq for the past year and a half that Tehran has been shipping short-range ballistic missiles to their proxies, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias. Iran is following the same game plan in Iraq that it has been following in Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza.
Iran’s missiles are a threat to U.S. troops in the region, to Saudi Arabia and to Israel. The Iranians, through their proxies, have already launched missiles at Israel from Syria three times now: In May 2018, January 2019 and then again in August 2019 when the Israelis used an airstrike on an IRGC-Hezbollah “killer drone” team on the Golan Heights.
The Iranian plan to fortify its militias with missiles coincides with its building of a base at Albukamal on the Syrian side of the border. The base nears completion. The construction was being conducted by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who the U.S. has labeled as a terrorist. It is known that al-Muhandis is the commander of the Kataib Hezbollah in Syria. He is also the Deputy of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) that was created in Iraq to fight ISIS.
Once the base is complete, the Iranians will be able to move weapons and equipment from Iran through Iraq and straight to their proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon. This will give them ample firepower to threaten Israel as their missiles will easily be able to hit Jerusalem. As importantly, they will have a “land bridge” stretching from Iran, Iraq and Syria around the Golan Heights and Hezbollah controlled Lebanon.
This latest development is troubling to the U.S. and certainly to the Israelis and Saudis. Iran can now arm its proxy forces with a vast amount of rockets that can hit American or Israeli targets from several countries. This will allow Iran a thinly disguised deniability.
On the night of December 4th, the base at Albukamal was hit by a presumably Israeli airstrike. The U.S. has denied involvement.