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The Iraqi Backlash to U.S. Airstrikes Is Growing

The administration's escalation was unwise and dangerous.
Iraq flag cracked

The backlash in Iraq to U.S. airstrikes on an Iraqi militia over the weekend is growing. Even Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has condemned the airstrikes:

The “illegal practices carried out by some sides” must not be used as a reason to violate Iraq’s sovereignty, Sistani’s office said in a statement.

“The Iraqi authorities alone are entitled to deal with these practices and take the necessary measures to prevent them. They are called upon do so and to ensure Iraq does not become a field for settling regional and international scores and that others do not interfere in its internal affairs,” Sistani said.

The airstrikes have met with widespread condemnation from Iraq’s political leadership and from other militias that belong to the Popular Mobilization Forces. The Iraqi government understandably sees the strikes as a violation of their sovereignty, and the U.S. action has inflamed nationalist sentiment against the presence of American troops. Washington may see these militias primarily as Iran-backed groups, but they are also part of Iraq’s security forces and an American attack on them will naturally be perceived as an assault on Iraq.

The Iraqi government said it will be reviewing its military cooperation with the U.S.:

Iraq announced Monday after an emergency meeting of its National Security Council that it will “review” its relationship with the United States as a result of the strikes.

A spokesman for the Iraqi government said top officials had pleaded with the United States not to go ahead with Sunday night’s airstrikes against the Kataib Hezbollah militia, in which at least 25 militia members were killed and more than 50 injured.

The administration’s escalation was unwise and dangerous. As usual, the Trump administration did not think through the consequences of their actions. They have managed to create a new crisis with the Iraqi government and they may very well have triggered a new insurgency against U.S. forces. The costs of the Trump administration’s destructive Iran policy keep increasing. Because of that policy and the predictable resistance to it, the U.S. and Iran remain dangerously close to an unnecessary war. The latest escalation shows the folly of a policy focused solely on coercion and punishment. If the U.S. and Iran are to navigate the current crisis successfully, our governments have to establish channels of communication to prevent small clashes from expanding into a larger conflict. Better still, the U.S. should extricate its forces from Iraq so that they are no longer potential targets.