The impact of US-Iran Tensions on Iraq and Kurdistan Region
It is clear that the current US administration has identified several fundamental issues related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the ‘Iran nuclear deal’. In particular, the deal is not linked to non-nuclear security issues, including the spread of Iran’s influence across the Middle East.
Iran’s support to armed non-state actors in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen has become a serious concern for the US and its allies in the region. Many of these non-state actors are believed to have acquired access to increasingly sophisticated military technologies, including middle-range ballistic missiles. The use of such missiles by the Houthis of Yemen against targets in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one example. Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraq’s Hashd Al-Sha’abi are operating transnationally and capable of threatening (or attacking) the regional US military presence or its allies, such as the state of Israel and the Gulf Arab countries.
From the group discussion, it also became clear that the US administration is not looking to provoke Iran into a war but to negotiate an alternative deal to bring Iran under overall security compliance and bring about a new regional ‘Order’. The US administration would consider this an ideal outcome to avoid the possibility of escalation into violent conflict. The US is playing a long game to allow for economic pressure to convince Iran to negotiate again. To date, Iran has rejected any offer to re-negotiate the nuclear deal and has not restrained its proxies in the region.
From Iraq’s perspective, the Baghdad and Erbil governments find themselves in difficult positions amidst these tensions between these global and regional powers. The US fully understands that Iran shares a long border with Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and that there are degrees of economic inter-dependence, particularly on food and agricultural products. Most Iranian exports into Iraq and the KRI are not subject to sanctions, and trade is continuing.
The US wants Iraq and the KRI to have friendly relations with Iran; however, they also have serious concerns about illegal (sanction-evading) trade between the two countries, particularly in the area of energy. The US is also concerned about the open and friendly relationship between Iraq’s various political parties and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps which was added to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the US Government in April, 2019.
The US decision to evacuate non-essential personnel from Iraq and the KRI is also viewed as an issue of local concern. Undoubtedly, this decision was not taken lightly by the US with its strong partnerships with Iraq and the KRI in many areas, including the fight against the so-called Islamic State. The US relation with the KRI is considered unique in the world because the US has not historically had such relations with any other federal ‘Region’ or sub-state entity. The participants emphasised the necessity to build on this mutually rewarding relationship over the long term, while also being sensitive to the complexity of the global and regional security dynamics.
PUKmedia / MERI