Unlike Afghanistan where US troops have left the country, small pockets of US troops remain in Iraq. One such location is in the city of Erbil. This was the same base hit back on the last anniversary of 9/11, and it is the capital of the autonomous region of Kurds. On an early Sunday morning, a small contingent of drones and rockets attacked the airport from Iran. Ain al-Asad airbase in Baghdad was also the target of rockets and drones the day before.
Both bases are some of the few to house the 2,500 US Soldiers still left in Iraq. These attacks are largely caused by the instability left since the crippling destruction of the Sunni Islamist group Islamic State in 2017 by a very unlikely mixture of Iraqi, U.S.-led, and Iran-backed forces. The instability left in the wake of this defeat has been led by Iranian-backed forces.
While Iran itself denies true responsibility, the evidence, tactics, and equipment all indicated the presence of Iranian forces or at least materials. These early morning hit-and-run-style attacks are common in their country, as well as Shi’ite militia groups. These two rely on one another to make their attacks successful or to at least share notes on their attacks.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a tweet about the attack. ‘Erbil is under fire… as if Kurds were not Iraqis.’
Tweets like this leave out the different mixture of people within the region but point a strong finger at the Iranians. Given their current situation within the world, their involvement in this attack is not only probable, but it makes the most sense out of any other group.
Given the recent Israeli airstrike last Monday on two members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Syria, the Iranians striking back at the US in Iraq would be a clear response, and it would be incredibly logical. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine a few weeks back, the nuclear deal in place for the Iranian capital of Tehran has been destroyed, and no new plan officially put into place despite frequent negotiations in Vienna.
Following the transition to a non-combat role, the US has seen fewer deaths and attacks in the country. However, U.S. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie issued a grave warning about these kinds of attacks last December. He warned troops and the media about the desire of Iran and other groups that “still want American troops to leave the country.”
The feelings aren’t theirs exclusively.
US troops have grown tired of their presence in the war-torn country. Much like Afghanistan, there is little gain from their continued presence in terms of a military or political strategy. While Iran has their goals with the area, and in conjunction with Syrian forces could launch an all-out attack on the region and destabilize the country as a whole.
With the belief that such a small and spread-out group of US troops will prevent that kind of invasion, the Iranians and their allies are content to take pot-shots at the bases and just try to cause slight general chaos. These kinds of disturbances do not come with any consistency with their frequency, style of attack, or how much they are bombarding the target.
When nothing is consistent it makes it that much harder to be prepared. While the US Army thrives in chaos, other groups do not. Especially the Iraqi army, who has a hard enough time showing up and not switching sides to gain favor with the Iranians or their supporters.