Mike Phipps, editor of Iraq Occupation Focus’s fortnightly e-newsletter, reports
Is this how wars start? First a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base. The Pentagon retaliated with an air strike against the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, a pro-Iranian group, killing 25. The next day the militia invaded Baghdad’s green zone and held a day long siege of the US embassy. The Guardian noted, “Security forces who have had no compunction about firing tear gas canisters into the skulls of anti-Iranian protesters on Tahrir Square, stood by and watched molotov cocktails thrown at the US embassy.”
Trump responded with the targeted assassination of leading Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, who was travelling in the same car. While observers were still questioning the legality of this action, the US followed up with further strike reportedly on a convoy of medics, killing six.
While pundits debate the danger of an escalating conflict with Iran, it should be emphasised that all these attacks were carried out on Iraqi soil. The US strikes on Kata’ib Hezbollah are spun as an attack on Iran, but in fact, this militia is one of the Popular Mobilization Units set up to fight Isis after the Iraqi army surrendered to them in 2014. It is an official part of Iraq’s security forces, which is why the Iraqi prime minister called the strike on it an “American attack on the Iraqi armed forces.”
Despite having fought fiercely against Isis, Kata’ib Hezbollah became a US target about six months ago, when Trump allowed Israel to use US bases in Iraq and Syria to launch drone strikes against it. Now, as Trump prepares to send 3.500 more US troops to Iraq, parliamentarians are tabling motions for the expulsion of the US military.
“The US forces are supposedly in Iraq for the sole purpose of fighting Isis in collaboration with the Iraqi armed forces,” reported Patrick Cockburn in the Independent. “Using that military presence to kill opponents of the US is clearly a gross infringement of Iraqi sovereignty.”
All this comes at a time when a genuinely popular, secular movement has been battling the fiercest state repression to demand an end to the political corrupt sectarian system of governance that the US occupation bequeathed to Iraq. Protesters have condemned US and Iranian influence in the country’s institutions, with over 400 killed and the government forced to resign – but all this could now be sidelined by government appeals for unity against the threat of escalating military action.
Trump says he has identified 52 possible targets in Iran that are “important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” although attacks on cultural heritage sites are illegal under international law. Here Labour Party activists and union members need to be vocal in opposition to the mounting threat. They should take their cue from the US Labor Against the War statement: “US Labor Against the War stands with the workers of Iran and Iraq, who will be the main casualties of this madness. We call for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal from Iraq and no catastrophic war with Iran. Our members have more in common with the working brothers and sisters abroad than with the Trump administration or any chicken-hawk politician.”
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