Iran Faces Deep Internal Turmoil and External Fury on Pricking US Ire

Two hasty “misadventures” of Iran have drowned it into serious internal turmoil and external anger of its European allies as well as the wrath of the US. The “misadventures” of Iran include downing in Tehran a Ukrainian passenger jet airliner and attacking an Iraqi base, where US troops are housed, killing an American contractor.

It is its own folly that Iran has now sunk itself into deep trouble internally and externally. In fact two hasty “misadventures” of Iran have drowned it into serious internal tumult and external anger of its European allies as well as wrath of the US. The “misadventures” of Iran include downing near its own airport Tehran a Ukrainian passenger jet airliner on January 8 and launching of an attack on a Iraqi base, where US troops are housed, killing a US contractor on December 27.

Initially Iran denied any role in the air crash, but on January 11, it admitted that its armed forces had accidentally shot down the Ukrainian passenger airliner as it was taking off from the Iranian airport, killing 176 people aboard, including Iranian, Canadian, Ukrainian, Swedish, British, and other nationalities. The crash had happened as the Iranian forces launched a missile attack against American forces in Iraq in retaliation to the US killing of Iran’s top military commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Along with international condemnation, chiefly from Canada, the anger grew domestically in Iran for downing the Ukrainian airliner. Hundreds of protesters intensified their agitation in Tehran as the protest spread domestically to other cities like Kermanshah, Ahvaz, Rasht, Yazd, Semnan and Mashhad. Extending support to the Iranian protesters, US President Donald Trump appealed to the Iranian authorities: “Do not kill your protesters. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you… Stop the killing of your great Iranian people.”

Much to the annoyance of the British government, on January 11, the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, was briefly “arrested” during the Iranians’ protests, as he was suspected to have been supporting and taking part in the protest. However, the ambassador said he was in the area to attend a vigil for the victims of the plane crash. Iran’s action in the detention of the British ambassador and its delay in admitting to the shooting down of the Ukrainian plane has been threatening its relations with European countries, on whose support Iran depends to avoid an international isolation, and honor the 2015 nuclear agreement though the US had left it in 2018.

Though the fierce exchange of retaliatory airstrikes on each other has been suspended by Iran and the US, the tension between them has not receded. The attack was once again revived by Iran on January 12, when it fired several rockets at the Balad air base that hosts US troops. In the attack, six Iraqi soldiers are stated have been injured.

In a latest development on January 14, the European countries — Britain, France and Germany –announced re-imposition of the international sanctions on Iran putting pressure on it to comply with the 2015 agreement that has limited Iran’s nuclear activities.

The trouble initially started by Iran-backed militia on December 27 when it fired more than 30 rockets at an Iraqi military base near Kirkuk, killing a US contractor and wounding four US troops.

In retaliation, the US on December 29, carried five air-strikes — three on Iranian-backed Shiite militia group of Kataib Hezbollan’s bases in Iraq and another two such bases in Syria. These bases also have weapons-storage and command facilities. In these strikes, it is stated, at least 25 members of the Hezbollah group were killed and dozens injured. Hezbollah militia group is formally a part of the Iraqi army.

Trump blamed Iran for orchestrating the day-long attack, which followed US airstrikes on camps in Iraq and in Syria. This exchange of attacks had continued for more than a week turning them into an escalated near-undeclared war between the two countries.

As part of attacks on December 31, in support of Iran, pro-Iranian militias stormed the American embassy in Baghdad, trapping diplomats inside while chanting “Death to America”. Hundreds of demonstrators surrounded the embassy compound, breaching the main gate and smashing their way into several reception rooms. They set fire to furniture, battered down doors, and lobbed bricks at bullet-proof glass.

The rampage was carried out with the apparent connivance of Iraqi security forces, who allowed protesters inside the highly protected Green Zone. They made their way to the embassy, climbing walls and hurling stones. US guards responded with tear-gas but did not open fire. Later, the protesters withdrew from the embassy after their leadership ordered to suspend the violence as the US troops were present in Iraq. The US accused Iran of the attack on the embassy.

And an infuriated Trump, in a surprise retaliatory operation but in a very guarded secrecy, ordered on January 2/3, a midnight guided drone attack on a convoy near Baghdad international airport that was transporting Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, leader of the foreign wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, a top Iraqi paramilitary commander and deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces. In the attack Maj. Gen. Soleimani, and his accomplice al-Mohandes, were killed. The Popular Mobilization Forces is an umbrella for dozens of militias, many of them Shiite, consisting of about 140,000 members that are part of the Iraqi security setup.

It is stated that Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani frequently visited Syria and Iraq to build Shiite militias and spread Iranian influence. He was such a powerful military general that he reported directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Since 1998, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani had commanded the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was mandated to export Iran’s revolution across the Middle East. His group, as a supplier of deadly roadside bombs, was responsible for killing 608 American soldiers during the Iraq war.

An Iraqi security official said that 24 hours after the attack on the top Iranian military leader, another airstrike killed five members of an Iranian-backed militia north of Baghdad.

Defending the killing of the Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Trump said: “A reign of Terror is over. He made the death of innocent people his sick passion. We took action last night to stop a war.” The fallout of killing of the top Iranian military leader in Iraq had a series of ripples of infuriated reactions leading to high tension in the Middle East, with Iran vowing to avenge his death, and Iraq showing its ire to expel the US troops from that country.

But the US said it would deploy 3,500 additional troops in the region to fortify the security. Trump said the US would impose sanctions on Iraq and slap a bill for billions of dollars if the US was forced to withdraw its troops from the nation after the Iraqi parliament votes for it. The US also warned Iraq that it risks losing access to a critical government bank account if Baghdad kicks out American forces. Trump said that unless the US exits Iraq on a “very friendly basis, it will charge them sanctions like they have never seen before.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced it plans to send B-52 bombers and more troops to the Mideast as anger simmered in Tehran and Baghdad.

As expected by the US, in response to the killing of the top Iranian General, Iran on January 7/8, struck back by firing a series of surface-to-surface missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops and warning the US and its allies in the region not to retaliate. The two bases were Erbil in northern Iran and the large Al Asad base in western Iraq. However, there were no US casualties though there were some Iraqi casualties. An aide to the Prime Minister of autonomous Kurdish region, where Erbil is located, said no impact was reported on the US Consulate or the airport compound where coalition forces were based. Trump confirmed that “all is well.”

In a surprise development, the tense situation eased on January 9, as the US and Iran made a sane and sensible move from the conflict. Trump took the initiative to stop the hostilities with Iran, signaling no US military strikes would follow, following an Iranian missile barrage on Iraqi bases, housing American and allied military forces.

Trump’s hunch was that “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.” Other than diplomatic engagement, Trump emphatically sounded new campaign of additional economic sanctions, while Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the overnight strike was not necessary the totality of Iran’s response.

But even hours after the decision to move from the conflict was taken by the US and Iran, militants in Baghdad fired two rockets that set off warning signals at the US embassy. The blasts caused little damage, but they appeared to be a signal that Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran could still play a role in the conflict between the US and Iran.

The world countries have watched with an intense curiosity hoping that the US-Iran strikes would not turn out to be a full-scale conflict. They feared that the US President would use military might, but Trump exercised extreme restraint and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reciprocated it.

Meanwhile, some Democratic lawmakers in the US supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have questioned Trump’s action in unilaterally taking a decision and ordering a nightly drone attack on Iran’s top military leader. Pelosi called the airstrike “provocative and disproportionate that endangered our service members, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tension with Iran.” The Democrats said the classified briefings were short on details and left them wondering about the President’s next steps in the volatile Middle East. Pooh-poohing the criticism, Trump, who made a case for killing the powerful Iranian leader, said that the military action should provide adequate answers to Congress, regardless of what was required by law. Republicans, who have been generally supporting Trump’s actions, said the President was well within his power to attack Iran for plotting proxy operations against Americans in the Middle East. The US considered the Iran’s military leader a terrorist.

The Democratic-dominated US House on January 9, approved a resolution asserting that Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. The resolution is not binding on the President and would not require his signature. The Senate may soon vote on a separate measure that must come to the floor under Senate rules but Trump could veto if it passes both chambers.

Though Trump and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have agreed to suspend the hostilities, Iran is still facing violence in the country as domestic protesters have taken to streets for its “misadventures.” At the same time, by re-imposing international sanctions the European nations have brought pressure on Iran to honor the 2015 nuclear agreement.

– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.

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