It has been a busy week.
On Tuesday, a rent-a-mob attempted to storm the US embassy in Baghdad. The mob was called out by Iranian-owned Iraqi militias which have gradually become an accepted part of the Iraqi military structure. (Keep in mind here that some part of the billions of aid that we provide the Iraqi military is siphoned off to support the Popular Mobilization Forces, aka PMF, militias which, though owned and commanded by Iran’s IRGC Quds Force are part of the force structure of the Iraqi army. Essentially we are providing financial support to Iranian proxy forces.) By Wednesday, sufficient US reinforcements arrived that the mob decided to disband…until next time.
On Thursday, Iranian thug and Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani arrived in Baghdad. No one is quite sure of why he arrived but there are two theories. First, that he was there to organize a second run at the US embassy, one that would require US forces to fire on unarmed rioters and create a spectacle that would shock the region. Second, that he was there to liase with the PMF and have them carry out a coup d’etat against the current Iraqi government and turn Iraq officially into an Iranian client state. Soleimani felt bulletproof as two previous administrations had deemed him ‘too big to kill.’ He flew into Baghdad International and took a motorcade into Baghdad proper. He never made it. Three vehicles in the motorcade were hit by aptly named Hellfire missiles from a US drone.
— Tom Fitton (@TomFitton) January 3, 2020
Leader of terrorist, United States of America has to hold on Corpse of #Soleimani until you pay for missiles they use on him, same as your terrorists ask for price of Bullets they shot at body of IRANIAN people to give them back to there family’s. pic.twitter.com/Y4EZFa8Tm1
— BABAK (@babak22222) January 3, 2020
Among the obliterated were Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force; Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis; deputy commander of the PMF; and Naim Qassem, deputy secretary general of Lebanese Hezbollah.
While this was happening, US forces detained Qais al-Khazili, commander of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, and Hadi al-Amiri, commander of the Badr Organization militia. They were kept under house arrest and prevented from creating trouble.
All in all, not a bad day’s work.
On Friday, the US Treasury designated al-Khazili as a “specially designated global terrorist” and his Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia as a terrorist organization.
The U.S. State Department statement on January 3 said that it was also sanctioning two of the group’s leaders.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the militia and its leaders “violent proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The State Department said Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, also known as the League of the Righteous, is backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, which has been similarly designated by the United States.
The State Department said it also designated Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, and his brother Laith al-Khazali, another leader of the group, as specially designated global terrorists.
There is no word right now on the location of either of the detainees but they seem to be out of the picture.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, IRGC local commander Abdul Reza Shahlai was killed.
Also on Friday, there seems to have been a US operation of some kind directed against Iranian proxy militias north of Baghdad. There was a report by the PMF that a “medical” convoy had been attacked and word quickly spread that several top militia leaders had been killed. Then the PMF backed off the claim and the US issued a denial that from my time in the Pentagon seemed way, way too specific. The PMF had claimed that the convoy was hit by an airstrike near Camp Taji, north of Baghdad.
FACT: The Coalition @CJTFOIR did NOT conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days.
— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) January 4, 2020
There have been denials that Shibi al-Zaidi, named by Newsweek as the likely decedent, was killed that doesn’t mean others weren’t. And, right now, the PMF and Iran have a vested interest in denying US attacks (as does the US) because if they are seen to be getting rolled up everywhere, that is not a good look for them.
The Pentagon denial was that there had been any airstrike near Camp Taji opening the possibility that it was a drone strike near Camp Taji or that it was an airstrike or drone strike at some location that could plausibly be called “not near Camp Taji.” Newsweek reports.
One of my favorite movie scenes is from The Godfather where Michael Corleone, beset by a seemingly insuperable array of hostile forces, orchestrates the near simultaneous elimination of all of his enemies:
After yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel that much the same thing had happened in the area of operations covering Iraq, Syria, and the Arabian peninsula.
We know that Trump, and the nation, would like to bring to a close our involvement in Syria and Iraq. The Syria withdrawal is in progress. But to leave Iraq we need to leave behind some kind of a security arrangement that does not consist of Iraq and Syria being dependencies of Iran and that does not include creating in Iran a regional superpower on the cusp of possessing nuclear weapons.
For Iranian influence to be constrained we have to show that we are not afraid to do what it takes to impose our will.
The effective decapitation of the PMF in a single afternoon, and the hammer blows directed against the Quds Force in Baghdad and Yemen, are strong actions that send a very strong message. That this is not personal about tweets, this is strictly business.