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Iran, Iraq and the isolation of US imperialism in the Middle East

Written by: (Contributed) on 7 February 2024


Above - Iraqis call for removal of US troops in 2020 following US assassination of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani 
Image: Thaier Al-Sudani/REUTERS


High-level diplomatic talks between the Iraqi and US governments about a US military withdrawal from the country reveal the changing balance of forces across the region has had its effect upon the ruling presidential administration of Abdul Latif Rashid in Baghdad. US policy against the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and since has rebounded; the Middle East has responded, effectively challenging traditional hegemonic positions, and pushing Iran into a regional leadership position. Despite huge financial budgets for their military incursions into the Middle East, the US have not achieved either their initial objectives or any realistic lasting presence in the region.

When the masses in Iran rose up in 1979 and ousted the Shah and established and Islamic Government under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the US lost one of its most loyal allies in the Middle East. The Shah was a US puppet - he 'remained the lynchpin of America's anti-Soviet efforts in the Middle East'. (1) In fact, he had been installed 'with the assistance of the CIA and Britain's SIS in 1953 in a coup organised against the left-leaning government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq'. (2) The motive left little to the imagination; US interests were the order of the day. It was noted that 'the catalyst for this action was Mossadeq's imminent nationalisation of western interests in Iran's oil industry … the … CIA subsequently provided organisational and training assistance for the establishment of an intelligence organisation for the Shah … and was placed … under the guidance of US and Israeli intelligence officers in 1957'. (3)

Five decades later the US has been left with the legacy of their interference in Iranian affairs; while creating a Cold War diplomatic position toward the Islamic Republic in 1979, the US has not achieved its objectives. In fact, they have proved counter-productive.  

It has given rise to three significant developments:

Firstly, a changing strategic relationship between Iran and its Arab neighbours, linked to the uncertainty about the future of the US role in the region. (4) Iran's initial relationship with its closest neighbours, for example, was strained; while the country was regarded as the centre of Islam, Iranian involvement with US interests was problematic. Slowly, however, the US Cold War position pushed Iran into a leadership role against US interests across the region.

The establishment of a Revolutionary Guard in Iran under a decree issued by Khomeini on 5 May 1979 with 'the ultimate responsibility of guarding the revolution itself', saw Iranian operatives form links with like-minded groups and organisations. (5) Its tentacles now spread across the wider region and into a multitude of armed and opposition groups.

It is, therefore, not surprising to observe Hamas in Gaza, establishing links with Iran. While differences exist between different strands of Islam, the common goal of ridding the region of US interests can be regarded as a binding force.

Secondly, Iran's growing capabilities for asymmetric warfare can be regarded as a serious challenge for US interests. (6) While maintaining a large standing army of regular forces, Iran has also forces trained in unconventional warfare: guerilla tactics, insurgency, rebellion, terrorism. Their influence has grown with the changing balance of forces following the failure of western backing of anti-Assad groups in Syria and the growing influence of Russia, Syria and Turkey, across the Middle East; US backing for anti-government forces and the so-called Arab Spring, was a serious mistake. It has rebounded upon Washington and the Pentagon; their initial intelligence assessments were clearly flawed.

Finally, Iran's success in creating more effective air-defence systems including drones, can be regarded as a serious challenge to US-led military hegemony across the wider region. (7)

The recent attack of a US military facility in Jordan and high-level diplomatic talks between Baghdad and Washington have to be assessed in that context.

The attack, by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, on a secret US Tower 22 military facility in Jordan, close to the borders with Iraq and Syria, took the US by complete surprise. The pro-Iranian militia used a drone to attack residential quarters, killing three service personnel and injuring many others. (8) It was part of a program which has included at least 165 similar attacks on US interests across the region since last October, with serious implications. (9) A pro-Israeli intelligence source, for example, has noted that as 'the war in Gaza heads into its fifth month … it has brought … the region to the brink of full-blown conflict'. (10)  

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Mohamed Shia al-Sudani’s call for a withdrawal of US troops from the country has also led to high-level diplomatic talks; Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh recently issued a statement noting 'the US footprint in Iraq will certainly be part of the conversations as it goes forward, indicating that Baghdad's desire for a reduction in these forces was on the table'. (11) A statement from Baghdad, however, revealed that the Iraqi government was attempting to 'ease pressure  … from … militia groups to oust US forces'. (12) There is no wish to prolong the US presence.

The US, at present, has 2,500 military personnel in Iraq together with 900 based in Syria, and a further 900 deployed elsewhere. (13) Their longer term future is questionable. It is unlikely they will have a lasting presence, as the balance of forces continues to slowly swing away from previous US hegemonic positions. A recent statement issued by Hamas, for example, noted 'the continuation of the American-Zionist aggression on Gaza risks a regional explosion'. (14)

It should be noted, furthermore, that during the 2001 to 2019 period, the US Department of Defence has estimated regional operations had been costed at between $2,002.4 to $2,106.2 billion. (15) There has been comparatively little gained for the massive financial costs, and the position of the US, in general, would now appear precarious.

1.     US foreign policy and the Iranian Revolution, Christian Emery, (London, 2012), page 2; see also, Project Dark Gene / Project Ibex, / dark gene.htm; and, Iran / RSA, Le Monde Diplomatique, December, 1976; and, Project Dark Gene and Project Ibex, Tom Cooper and Art Kremzel,
2.     Espionage, Spies and Secrets, Richard M. Bennett, (London, 2002), pp. 142-46.
3.     Ibid.
4.     Iran and the changing military balance in the Gulf, CSIS., 20 March 2020.
5.     Ibid.
6.     Ibid.
7.     Ibid.
8.     Three US troops killed and 34 hurt, The Sun, 28 January 2024.
9.     Drone mix-up blamed for deaths, Australian, 31 January 2024.
10.   US pushes for deal to end war, Australian, 2 February 2024.
11.   America, Iraq to hold talks on troops, The Weekend Australian, 27-28 January 2024.
12.   Militia to suspend attacks on US, Australian, 1 February 2024.
13.   Australian, op.cit., 31 January 2024.
14.   President vows revenge for dead troops, Australian, 30 January 2024.
15.   CSIS., op.cit., 20 March 2020.


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