Iraq: Iraq February 2024


February 2, 2024: Iran-backed Iraqi militias continue to attack American troops in Iraq. On January 28 an Iran-backed Iraqi militia used a UAV armed with explosives to kill three American soldiers at their Tower 22 base across the border in Jordan. Other recent inside Iraq attacks involved ballistic missiles as well as the usual unguided rockets and occasional gunfire. The primary base for American troops in Iraq is the Ain al-Assad air base, which the Americans have equipped with anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems. These intercept most missiles and rockets fired at the base but occasionally one gets through and causes some injuries. So far injuries have been minor.

These attacks have become more frequent since Gaza-based Hamas made a massive surprise attack on Israel last year. That attack was only a partial success because the Israeli quickly counterattacked and are now seeking to eliminate the Hamas presence in Gaza. Hamas’ momentary victory encouraged other groups to attack American troops in the region. The Ain al-Assad air base is in Anbar Province, which consists of most of western Iraq and mostly desert. American troops have been at the airbase since 2003. Now Iran wants the Americans out of Iraq so that Iran has a better chance to take control of the country. Iran justifies its attacks on Iraqis and Americans because Iran claims Israel seeks more power in Iraq. That is absurd but normal for Iranian propaganda.

There are few Israelis in Iraq, all of whom work with the Kurds in northern Iraq as technical and military advisors. Iraq continues to resist Iranian efforts to dominate local politics and much else. Iraqi efforts to reduce corruption played a part in convincing a growing number of formerly pro-Iran Iraqis to change their minds about backing Iran. The current Iranian government has been an economic, diplomatic, and military disaster for everyone in the area, not just Iranians. Few Iraqis want to emulate Iran, and this now includes Iraqi members of pro-Iran militias. Initially Iran encouraged and maintained pro-Iran attitudes in Iraq by supplying Iraqi militiamen with weapons and regular cash payments. Increasing economic problems inside Iran reduced the money available to pay the Iraqi militiamen enough to keep them loyal to Iran. The longer the Iraqi militiamen went unpaid, the less willing they were to serve Iranian interests. How much is left is questionable, but certainly enough that some militias are currently attacking American troops and bases at Iranian orders.

Iraqis were also put off by the brutality Iran used to suppress the hijab protests that began in 2017 and intensified in 2022 when Iranian lifestyle police killed a young woman for not covering her hair. After most women were simply not wearing hijabs to cover their hair, Iran insisted that foreign women, even those allowed into the country to help Iran with economic projects, cover their hair. Meanwhile there were too many Iranian women refusing to cover their hair for the Iranian government to arrest or otherwise punish. The Iranian government has not given up on enforcing the use of hijabs and is seeking ways to force women to comply. A proposed new law would criminalize failure of women to wear hijabs, but the government is unsure what impact trying to enforce such a law would have. Most women and many men oppose the hijab restrictions and consider these laws another reason to overthrow the religious dictatorship that has misruled Iran for decades.

Iraqis see this Iranian obsession over the hijab as odd and scary because this is the sort of thing Iran would try to impose on Iraqis if it could. Iraq and Iran were long known as much less fanatic about this sort of thing than, say, the Saudis. That is changing in Saudi Arabia, as it already has in Iraq and, until recently, Iran. Currently Iran is seen as the most fanatically religious nation in the region. Before that Saudi Arabia held the title for decades.


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