Qaani’s regional tour and challenges of next stage

Firas Elias

Visit of al-Quds Force commander  in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, ” Esmail Qaani” to Baghdad came after a regional tour included Damascus and Beirut, which in turn indicated a clear Iranian intention to prepare for the next stage, a stage that will determine to a large extent the viability of the Iranian role in Iraq and the region, especially because Iraq has been and remains a crucial file in the paths of the US-Iranian confrontation.

Actually, since the outbreak of protests in October 2019 and its parallel in Beirut in addition to the assassination of former Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport in January 2020, Iran has been facing a difficult situation in the region, specifically in the context of the emergence of political and security developments that are notby  no means supportive to the Iranian orientations and goals.

Undoubtedly, the nuclear agreement signed in April 2015 formed an opportunity for Iran to consolidate its regional influence in several regional arenas, including Iraqfor example, given that  concessions that Iran made in its nuclear program and were met by a US green light for expansion in Iraq. Then, the emergence of the  Popular Mobilization increased the effectiveness of the Iranian role, in other words, the pro-state factions, which have come to present themselves strongly within the tracks of the US-Iranian conflict equation, through their constant urge for the exit of US forces from Iraq.

Qaani’s visit to Baghdad was based on an invitation extended to him by the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, in order to gain Iranian support to control the movement of the pro-state factions and “Katyusha cells” whose statements became more inflammatory on the one hand, and similarly its missiles at the US embassy In Baghdad on the other hand, during the past few days. Despite the announcement of some leaders of the pro-government factions, including the statements made by leader of the “Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq” movement, Qais Khazali, that the state factions are not interested in  Qaani ‘s visit to Baghdad and that they have their own independent options, It is proven that a new shift is underway in the Iranian strategy in Iraq.

The visit promoted the independence of the pro-state factions from the Quds Force in Iraq in order to remove responsibility from Iran in the event of the escalation against the US forces on the one hand while affirming theiraffiliation to the axis of resistance that it leads in the Middle East on the other hand. This means that Iran will not be held accountable for any escalation that these factions may initiate in Iraq, in case the administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump decides to direct a military strike to the factions in the coming days.

With regard to the relation of Qaani’s visit to Baghdad to the truce granted by the state factions and Katyusha cells to the US forces in Iraq, it also represents an important dimension, especially since the leader of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq movement, Qais Khazali, confirmed that the truce granted to the US forces to leave Iraq has ended, which refers to an expected escalation in missile attacks on the bases hosting the US forces in Iraq or even the US embassy, ​​as the Katyusha cells have previously succeeded in targeting many of the headquarters where the US forces are present in Iraq, most notably: the presidential palaces in Mosul, the bases of Balad and Taji, the US embassy in Iraq, the Green Zone, Basmaya Camp in Baghdad, Victory camp in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport, the K1 base in Kirkuk, and  the US oil companies operating in Basra, most notably Exxon Mobil and Halliburton Oil Company.

Katyusha cells also launched during the period from January to September 2020, about 70 attacks on US headquarters, the outcome of which was the killing of an American contractor and three soldiers at the K1 base in Kirkuk in December 2019 and death of other 12 soldiers from the US-led international coalition in another blast hit the Taji base in March 2020. [2] In addition to the use of these cells, unmanned reconnaissance aircraft (drones) was also used to photograph the US embassy in Baghdad and the Ain al-Assad base in Anbar, and recently these cells changed their operational strategy by targeting convoys carrying supplies to US forces or international coalition facilities. These operations reached to 25 armed attacks, [3] Specifically, in Basra, Nasiriyah and Salah al-Din, as well as the Abu Ghraib area, west of Baghdad, on September 17 2020, for which the (Qasim al-Jabarin) group claimed responsibility.

Indeed, the withdrawal of the US forces from nine military bases came to reflect the US conviction that the Iraqi government failed to fulfill its obligations to protect the US interests in Iraq, thus they are now centered in bases of Baghdadi, Harir and Ain al-Assadin the frame of the long term plan to limit the US existence in Iraq in the context of the exchange of information and logistical support as a part of a UUS intention to immunize the US forces in Iraq from any aggression.

The strategy of “deterring conflict” was one of the most prominent strategies adopted by the US leadership in Iraq, especially in the context of deterring missile attacks launched by Katyusha cells, as the area of ​​a security precinct was defined at a distance of 70 kilometers around the military bases in which the US forces were present, specifically the “Ain” base Assad “in Anbar, so that the state factions and Katyusha cells become vulnerable to the use of lethal force, in case they exceed this identified line, through using many anti-missile C-RAM air defense systems that have been installed around the US embassy in the Green Zone or by activating the intelligence effort around deterrence to the attacks on US convoys through making these attacks ineffective and deadly, in addition to avoiding the United States to respond to these assaultsby retaliatory strikes.

After Iraq,what’ll happen in case Iran is hit by a military strike?

Iran is aware that Iraq has always been an important arena for confrontation with the United States, for many strategic reasons, the most important of which is the availability of the pro-state base, which was the most prominent example of the Iranian proxy wars in the Middle East, and from this standpoint, given the few strategic costs that Iran may bear from any possible confrontation in the near future.Tthe United States targeted Soleimani in Iraq, and the Iranian response was in Iraq as well, which means that the two sides will maintain the rules of engagement in any military escalation, in light of a weak Iraqi reality.

In a related context, the Israeli-Iranian confrontation in Syria came out into the open, in light of the Israeli abandonment of the policy of ambiguity regarding the bombing of Iranian targets in Syria, matched by Tehran’s change of its rhetoric in response to the threat to its interests in Syria. Israel officially announced, which deemed contrary to what it was doing in Syria in the past, about raids on Iranian sites in the vicinity of Damascus airport last Wednesday. In the past, Israel deliberately, except for a few times, clearly ignored the announcement of the raids it launched inside Syria, and in return Iran pledged an overwhelming response to the Israeli attacks that targeted its sites in Syria. (4)

Israel is aware of the size of the strategic risks that it will face, in the event of Trump’s departure without conclusive results, despite the success of Israeli intelligence in uncovering most of the Iranian nuclear sites, after the penetration to Iran through “Operation Imad” and stealing of thousands of documents on the Iranian nuclear program in May 2018, the assassination of Soleimani by the United States in January 2020 and the ongoing economic sanctions on the Iranian economy. Israel wants to weaken Iran during the remainder of the period, even if it is forced to go alone towards Iran, because the weather conditions in Iran during the current period may encourage Israel to carry out an irresponsible lightning strike, if it decides to do so.


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