A large number of people seem to believe that World War III has begun with the drone strike that killed Iran’s Quds Force commander, General Qassem Soleimani, on January 3. On December 27, a US military contractor was killed in a rocket attack in Iraq, and the US responded with a bombing campaign. Iraqis rioted and attacked the United States Embassy in Baghdad. Washington then accused Iran of being behind the riots and assassinated General Soleimani — a high-ranking official in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — along with his right-hand man in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Iran threatened with massive retaliatory action in response to the US escalation (after the obligatory three days of mourning), and President Donald Trump announced that thousands of additional US troops will be deployed in the Middle East to deter an Iranian military response. In October last year, Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria as part of his aim to pull America out of the “endless wars” in the region— a decision that was widely criticized and swiftly reversed to retain a military presence to protect Syria’s oilfields. Following recent events, the US decided to bring more troops to the Middle East: 750 soldiers to Baghdad, with another 3,000 on standby.
Will Iran and the US Go to War?
It is worth mentioning that President Trump’s withdrawal from Syria, which was one of his main campaign promises, was perceived as a weak move by Iran. Yet judging from official numbers alone, the US maintains its strong influence in a number of Middle Eastern countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Following Soleimani’s assassination, the Iraqi government asked for all the US troops to be removed, but, according to various media sources, there are no plans to pull the US troops out of Iraq or to evacuate the US Embassy in Baghdad. Iraqi officials accused President Trump of violating their country’s sovereignty and of attacking targets inside the country, thus threatening Iraq’s security.
As per Pew Research data, the United States remains largely disliked across the Middle East. There are suggestions that there is little the United States can do in the region, either in terms of diplomacy or by military means. As in Richard Nixon’s nightmare, America is seen by some as a pitiful, helpless giant. Yet if you take a look at hard data, such as on military spending, that isn’t true. What is true is that President Trump’s campaign promise of removing all US troops out of the Middle East is a utopia. The decision to send additional troops to Baghdad is just the latest confirmation of just how unrealistic this promise is.
Another aspect worth contemplating is that both America’s allies and foes in the Middle East are confused about the US government’s long-term plan for the region, and current events have left a further sense of a bewildering chaos.
The Middle East is perceived as a litmus test of American military hegemony in the world. Switching geopolitical planes, if the US would fully retreat from the region, such a move would embolden both Russia and China to seize more land and power, like they have in Crimea, Ukraine and the South China Sea.
If sending more American troops to the Middle East has been part of an endless cycle since 9/11, what does the future hold for the US? We will see even more occupation and troops sent to the Middle East in what has been described as Pax Americana. Last year alone, 14,000 US troops have been sent to the Gulf region. And yes, this translates into never-ending involvement in the Middle East and increased hostility toward America from the people living in the midst of the chaos. This is due to US policies shifting with each administration — and sometimes even with each day — creating instability. Just consider the blowback from the Soleimani assassination.
General Soleimani and many other Iranian officials have declared in the past that US forces make for a long list of lucrative targets for Iran’s military and militias, and Iraq is clearly the most probable battlefield for a proxy war. There are many anti- and pro-Iranian forces in Iraq, which means that in the face of Iran’s retaliatory strikes, the US is looking at a long, bloody and protracted conflict in the region. However, not just Iraq but the entire Middle East might see an explosion of violence as Iran does not want to appear weak to its enemies.
Faced with a retaliatory strike from Iran on US forces in Iraq, including a probable closure of the Strait of Hormuz, the US has two options: to strike Iran’s allies or to strike Iran itself. In either case, it is apparent that more US troops will have to be deployed in the region.
This article was originally published in Fair Observer
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