On Tuesday, Americans awoke to the news that our embassy in Iraq was under assault. Many terms could be used to characterize the crowd pressing on the compound; protesters is not one of them.
The attack is just the latest in a long line of provocations initiated by the Iranian regime over the last year. Like the others, this incident is unlikely to crack American resolve to push back on the bad boys in Tehran as the chief threat of instability in the Middle East.
Iraq has seen numerous protests in recent weeks, but those events were far different from what went down Tuesday. Those earlier protests—which have indeed unsettled the Iraqi government—were grassroots demonstrations protesting Iran’s intrusive influence in Iraq—both the mullahs’ meddling in politics and their funding of armed Shiite militias whose activities have significantly undermined Iraqi stability and security.
These have not been peaceful protests. Hundreds have died and thousands have been injured in recent weeks. Yet for the most part, anti-Americanism was not an element of these demonstrations.
Tuesday’s melee at the U.S. Embassy was an entirely different matter. The rioters were led by Iran-backed militias, including Kataeb Hezbollah. Allies of the Quds force, a unit in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, were also in the mix; they were photographed outside the U.S. facility.
What sparked the action was U.S. air attacks on Kataeb Hezbollah compounds in Iraq and Syria over last weekend. Those strikes came in retaliation to a Kataeb Hezbollah attack on a base near Kirkuk, Iraq, which killed an American civilian contractor and injured four U.S. service members. The U.S. action was proportional and responsible.
The U.S. made a quick and decisive response to the assault in Baghdad as well. Noting that “U.S. personnel are secure and there has been no breach,” a State Department spokesperson announced at the conclusion of the embassy fracas that “there are no plans to evacuate Embassy Baghdad.”
Rather than back down, the U.S. then offered a show of force, having U.S. combat helicopters overfly the compound, as the Defense Department announced the deployment of additional Marines to secure the facilities.
In addition, the State Department pressed for and received assurances from the Iraqi government that it would safeguard the embassy. Pictures online during the day appeared to show Iraqi security forces deploying around the U.S. compound.
The confrontation with Kataeb Hezbollah and the provocations in Baghdad ought to be viewed in the larger context of Iranian behavior over the last few months. The regime in Tehran is increasingly diplomatically isolated. The Iranian economy is reeling from heavy sanctions, compounded by inept and corrupt government economic policies. The mullahs continue to spend heavily to support their military surrogates wrecking mayhem in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, as well as funding militias in Iraq.
No wonder Iran is wracked by endemic protests against the regime—protests that have been violently suppressed by the government.
Rather than mend its ways, the Iranian regime has looked for ways to break out of the U.S.-led sanctions. Its ploys in this regard have included: threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz; harassing shipping; shooting down a U.S. drone; attacking Saudi infrastructure; and now harassing U.S. forces in Iraq providing training, assistance and support to the Iraqi people.
None of these flailing provocations has shaken U.S. resolve to block Iran’s unsettling ambitions. Nor are future provocations likely to elicit anything other than proportional, responsible countermeasures from Uncle Sam.
This piece originally appeared in The Detroit News on 1/2/20