Iran should rein in its proxies in Iraq and allow the Biden administration to reboot diplomacy
The rocket attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Sunday, which American military leaders called the largest attack on the highly fortified Green Zone in a decade, have sent tensions in the region soaring. President Donald Trump and senior leaders of the administration have pointed to Iran, saying that it supplied the rockets. The offensive appears to have been countered by the U.S.’s radar-guided defensive systems. Mr. Trump has warned that he would hold Iran responsible “if one American is killed”. The attack comes at a volatile time for Iran-American relations, which have collapsed after Mr. Trump took the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal unilaterally in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. He had reportedly sought options to launch strikes on Iran immediately after his election defeat but was dissuaded by Cabinet colleagues. With his exit soon from the White House, and Joe Biden, the next President, promising to revive the nuclear deal, there is a window of opportunity to restart the diplomatic process. But attacks like this threaten to push both the countries into an open conflict.
When the U.S. killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in January this year, American officials claimed that the drone strike in the Iraqi capital had reestablished America’s deterrence. But Iran had launched retaliatory missile attacks on U.S. military camps in Iraq, wounding several soldiers. And since then, pro-Iran Shia militias in Iraq have launched missile attacks at the Green Zone that houses the Embassy and repeatedly targeted American supply lines inside Iraq. The U.S. had earlier downsized its Embassy staff, closed the consulate in Basra and decided to reduce troops in Iraq. If U.S.-Iran relations are now at an explosive stage, the primary responsibility lies with Mr. Trump. His actions derailed a functioning international deal and his ‘maximum pressure’ campaign turned an Iran fully compliant with the deal’s terms more dangerous. Besides targeting the American Embassy, Iran, directly or through proxies, had attacked oil facilities and tankers in the Gulf over the past two years. Earlier this month, a tanker off Jeddah was attacked, allegedly by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels of Yemen. Iran is under pressure to counter the repeated attempts by the U.S. and its allies to scuttle its influence. Late last month, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top scientist, was killed inside Iran, allegedly by Israeli agents. But in a quest for revenge, Iran should not sleep-walk into the trap of provocation. Under any circumstance, attacks on diplomatic missions cannot be accepted. It should rein in the militia groups in Iraq that it supports. It must give the Biden administration a chance to reboot diplomacy, which is in the larger interests of Tehran as well as the wider west Asia.