Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Wednesday, Al-Quds al-`Arabi reports two rockets were fired at `Ayn al-Asad base in al-Anbar Province, Iraq, where US troops are stationed.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin both put pressure on Iraqi prime minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani. Al-Sudani reaffirmed his determination to keep the US military trainers and advisers safe.
The Shiite militia al-Nujaba’ rejected al-Sudani’s stance. Its leaders maintained that Israeli intelligence was using the US presence as a Trojan horse to infiltrate Iraqi bases.
According to Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, in the past week US troops in Iraq have been subjected to attacks on at least 10 separate occasions, and those in Syria have been attacked 3 times. The attackers used a mix of “one way attack drones and rockets.”
On October 18, a drone attack on US troops stationed at Tanf in southeast Syria lightly injured 20 US troops, according to the Arabic press.
The US is thought to have about 2500 troops in Iraq who have transitioned to roles as instructors in the Iraqi military academy or as advisors on mop-up operations in the north against ISIL remnants. In January, 2020, the Iraqi parliament voted to instruct the prime minister to find a way to expel US troops from the country, but the Iraqi executive has found ways around this parliamentary instruction. The vote to expel US troops was impelled by Trump’s assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the spec ops Jerusalem Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Also on October 18, a drone strike on US troops in Syria lightly wounded 4 US service personnel.
There are roughly 900 US troops in Southeast Syria, who are helping the Syrian Kurds siphon off petroleum from wells there, which both strengthens a local American ally and denies the petroleum wealth to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, which the US wants to keep weak. There is, however, no basis in international law for the presence of US troops in Syria now that ISIL has been defeated, and helping divert Syrian oil from its rightful owner is probably a war crime. The Syrian government has repeatedly asked the US to leave, but has been ignored by Washington.
The Pentagon is worried about these attacks proliferating as the Israeli land invasion of Gaza goes forward.
The US interprets these attacks as coming from Iran. While Iran does give training, weaponry and funding to the “Popular Mobilization Forces” in Iraq, there is no line of command going up to Iranian generals from the militias, which can act independently. Still, if a significant number of US troops is killed by drone or rocket strike, the call to strike at Iran, risking an all out war, may grow in Congress and the halls of power.
For the religious militias in the region, the US presence is a form of colonial domination, and their attacks on US troops are in the way of a sympathy strike in solidarity with the occupied Palestinians.