The United States military has resumed some offensive operations with Iraqi military units against Islamic State targets. The U.S. will also shortly resume the training of Iraqi units. (The two sides are currently trying to work out the details — we don’t currently know who the U.S. negotiators are.)
This resumption of operations comes just 10 days after the Iraqi parliament voted on a non-binding resolution to kick out the American troops. Outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul-Mahdi sent a request to the United States asking for a withdrawal plan. But he made it clear, that the next Iraq Prime Minister will be responsible for working out the removal of U.S. troops. But for the time being, the U.S. isn’t going anywhere.
The Iraqis were very upset and felt that the United States breached its sovereignty with the drone attack that killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian commander of the Quds Forces. However, the Iraqis seemed less upset with the Iranian-led militias rocketing the joint U.S./Iraqi bases across the region. The Iranians had attacked about a dozen times before the attack on Soleimani and have attacked about six times since.
In those attacks, Iraqi troops suffered more casualties than the U.S. did. Iranian-led militias also attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which forced the Iraqis to call out security forces to aid in the defense of the embassy. That attack, also orchestrated by Soleimani, had the opposite effect of kicking the U.S. out of the Middle East: In response to that threat, President Trump ordered 3,000 additional troops to the region.
In the last six years, American and Coalition troops from several other countries, have returned to Iraq to help train its armed forces following the invasion of ISIS which took over vast swaths of Iraqi as well as Syrian territory. Iraq has been the base that the coalition of forces has used to oust the Islamic State. But the Iranians — the hated enemy of Iraq just 33 years ago, when the two sides fought a bloody war with upwards of a million deaths — have moved in Iraq and have been exerting their influence.
The Iranian Quds Force are training a number of militias that are called the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The deputy commander PMF, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the drone attack that targeted Solemani.
The tensions between the Iranians and the Americans, in this case, both on the same side fighting ISIS, continued to rise.
The Iranian-led PMF militias continued to fire rockets and mortars at bases that housed American troops. In late December, a rocket attack killed an American contractor and wounded 4 Iraqi soldiers. That prompted the U.S. to target five PMF locations in both Iraq and Syria, which included command and control facilities, weapons storage depots, and bases.
Soleimani then ordered those militias to attack the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and for two days the militias attempted to storm and burn the buildings in the Green Zone. When American intelligence learned that Soleimani was arriving in Baghdad for a visit, they hit his small convoy of vehicles with a drone strike. American operatives on the ground were able to positively identify him through personal effects.
The Iranians then fired nearly two dozen missiles to U.S. bases in Iraq. While the missiles destroyed some buildings, there were no U.S. casualties. Iran initially tried to say that they killed 30 troops and hit the Americans with a major blow. But when the results were clear that there were no casualties, Iran tried to spin this as a propaganda tool that many media outlets in the United States had accepted without question.
Then Iran claimed that it deliberately tried to not injure any American soldiers, which is an utter horse dump: Al Jazeera and CBS News shot a video in the aftermath of the rocket attacks that clearly shows a barracks, which housed 40 American troops, and that were completely destroyed. If any troops were in there at the time of the attack, they’d have been surely killed. That so many Americans “fell for the banana in the tailpipe” is telling.
Meanwhile, Abdul-Mahdi told his Cabinet on Wednesday that during the lull of no operations, “ISIS has begun to reorganize and plan invasions and attacks,” trying to recapture the initiative during this political fallout. ISIS carried out attacks on Monday, on Iraqi forces along the Syrian border, which killed one officer and wounded four other troops.
So, despite Iran’s insistence that it, and not the Americans, defeated ISIS, the Islamic State chose to attack during the lull of American activity. The Iraqi leadership may not admit it publicly with the political climate the way it is right now, but they want, and more importantly, need the U.S. training to continue.