FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Panetta

The United States could take unilateral military action against Shia militias armed by Iran if they continued to attack US troops, Leon Panetta, the new US Defense Secretary, said on a visit to Iraq yesterday. The threat marks an escalation in the long-running battle for influence in Iraq between Washington and Tehran that has gone on since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The US has long accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shia militia groups, which it holds responsible for attacks in which some 18 US soldiers have died since the beginning of June. Washington would also like to keep between 8,500 and 10,000 troops in Iraq after the end of the year, despite an agreement for all US soldiers to be out by that date.

“We are very concerned about Iran and the weapons they are providing to extremists here in Iraq,” Panetta told US troops in Baghdad. “In June we lost a hell of a lot of Americans as a result of these attacks. And we cannot just simply stand back and allow this to continue to happen.” The US officially ended involvement in combat in Iraq last August, but Panetta threatened yesterday “to do what we have to do unilaterally”.

The American incentive to retain a military presence in Iraq, contrary to a Status of Forces Agreement signed by President George W Bush in his last weeks in power in 2008, has been increased by the weakening of its ability to confront Iran following the Arab Awakening. A senior Iraqi politician said: “The fall of Mubarak means that the US can no longer rely on Egypt as its main ally against Iran, so it has a greater need to be an important player in Iraq.”

The US still has 46,000 troops in Iraq, although they are largely inactive. Iraqi politics are deeply divided between ethnic and sectarian communities, political parties and individuals. “Whatever they may say in public, the Iraqi political class wants some US troops to stay to protect their interests,” the Iraqi politician said. Other Iraqis believe there will be limits to Iranian opposition to a US troop presence. Kamran Karadaghi, an Iraqi political commentator, said: “I think they will reach an agreement for some US troops to stay. At the end of the day the Iranians are pragmatic and practical.”
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, also appears to want the US to remain as a counter-balance to Iran.

Iranian policy has several strands, and a willingness to countenance some US soldiers remaining in Iraq would not preclude it also using Shia militia groups under its control to inflict casualties on the Americans. Three Katyusha rockets were fired into the Green Zone in Baghdad yesterday.

Saudi Arabia is playing a bigger role in Iraq in recent weeks as the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims deepens across the Middle East. The Saudis and the Gulf monarchies have paranoid suspicions of Tehran, seeing an Iranian hand orchestrating the takeover of government by the majority Shia in Iraq, and the Shia demand for democracy and an end to discrimination against them in Bahrain.

In a surprising comment which shows how little real difference there is between the policies of the Obama and Bush administrations when it comes to Iraq,  Panetta told troops: “The reason you guys are here is because on 9/11 the United States got attacked.” The implication of this is that Panetta believes the long-exploded myth of American neo-conservatives that Saddam Hussein was in alliance with al-Qa’ida before September 11, 2001, despite much evidence to the contrary.

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of Language in the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail