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article imageOp-Ed: Pentagon plans massive attacks on Iraqi pro-Iranian militias

By Ken Hanly     Mar 28, 2020 in Politics
Last week in the US, the Pentagon issued a secret directive that asked US military commanders in Iraq to plan a huge campaign against Iraqi Shi'ite militias with the plan of wiping out some at least.
Initiative urged by Mike Pompeo
The offensive plan is being advocated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who believes the US can destroy some Iran-backed militia operating in Iraq. He thinks they act as proxies for Iran by attacking US facilities. Pompeo believes he can do this while Iran is distracted as it has to deal with the effects of the coronavirus weakening the government. The US has refused to temporarily reduce the sanctions to aid Iran cope with the virus. Indeed, it has been increasing sanctions. Some US commanders in particular Lt. Gen. Robert White object to Pompeo's plan.
General White's criticism
General White is
the US top commander in Iraq. He warned that any offensive campaign could be bloody and even counterproductive and risked outright war with Iran. Perhaps Pompeo would welcome a war with Iran. White also noted that any new military campaign would need thousands of more US troops. It would also divert resources from the US mission of training Iraqi troops and combating the Islamic State ISIS.
The US mission is virtually finished with ISIS in survival mode as it has lost all territory it held. Iraqi forces are no doubt able to meet any ISIS challenge on their own. The Iraqi parliament earlier this year voted 170 to 0 that all foreign troops be withdrawn. The US ignored the resolution and refused to talk about withdrawing. Trump has threatened Iraq with severe sanctions if it tries to force the US to leave. The US obviously wants to stay in Iraq to counter Iranian influence and to be ready to attack it if necessary.
Response of other officials
Defense Secretary Mark Esper
and General Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been wary of any sharp military escalation. Both have warned that such actions could destabilize the Middle East when President Trump has said he hopes to reduce the number of troops in the region. Trump often changes his mind and there have already been more troops and equipment sent into the Middle East region including Saudi Arabia to confront Iran.
However Esper authorized planning for a new campaign inside of Iraq even as the military reduces its counter-terrorism presence in the country. The plans would provide options for the Trump administration should militia groups in Iraq escalate their attacks on US targets in Iraq according to two senior by anonymous officials.
Trump's response
It is not clear if Trump has signed off on the plans for the offensive but he has allowed planning to continue, and advocates of the plan are likely to believe that they can move from planning to engagement without too many obstacles.However, there may be some opposition within the Trump administration as there was about earlier strikes on March 12 at a top level meeting: "Before the meeting Mr. Trump convened with his top advisers, a lower-level meeting descended into acrimony when Brian H. Hook, the State Department’s top Iran adviser, erupted at Pentagon officials who professed not to have seen the military options being prepared for Mr. Trump, according to senior administration officials with knowledge of the meeting." So far the maximum pressure tactic has not stopped Iranian-backed militia from attacking the US in Iraq.
US actions are exacerbating conflict
The US assassination of key Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad airport resulted in retaliatory attacks from Iran and also on US bases in Iraq by Iran-supported Iraqi militia. The militia the US intends to attack are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces that are financed and approved by the Iraqi government. They are in effect part of Iraqi security forces. Given the fact that the US has been asked to leave by the US parliament, the Iraqi government can hardly accept an attack on its own forces. There will be even more pressure on a weak government in political crisis that could see it fall and the country descend into chaos. Perhaps the US wants to occupy Iraq again and appoint its own officials to be in charge such as Jay Garner and Paul Bremer.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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