Dozens of people in Syria and Iraq were killed Saturday morning after the United States fired ‘precision munitions’ into the two countries against 85 targets ranging from command and control and intelligence centers to logistics bases used by anti-ISIS* militias. Sputnik asked a trio of experts about the strikes’ implications for the region.
Russia called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Saturday in the wake of what Moscow characterized as a “new blatant act” of US “aggression against sovereign states.”
The strikes, carried out against what the Pentagon characterized as Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force units and “affiliated militia” forces in Syria and Iraq, came after a months-long regional escalation of militia attacks against illegal US bases in Syria and outposts in Iraq, in response to Washington’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza.
The Pentagon warned of potential strikes against targets inside Iraq and Syria last week after a militia drone attack against Tower 22, a US military outpost in Jordan just across the border from an illegal US base in southern Syria, which killed three American troops and injured 47 others.
Local media estimated that at least 23 people were killed in Syria and 16 in Iraq in Saturday’s attacks, with Damascus and Baghdad blasting Washington for its flagrant violation of the two countries’ sovereignty. Syria’s Foreign Ministry said it was “not surprised” to see American forces attack targets in the country’s east, “where our forces are fighting against the remnants of the ISIS terrorist organization, while the United States is working to revive ISIS terrorist activity.”
Syria’s Ministry of Culture slammed Washington’s aggression as a blatant violation of the Hague Convention, noting that the US strikes included an attack which hit the Citadel of al-Rahba, a regional ancient architectural marvel whose history goes back to the 9th century AD.
Along with the IRGC, Saturday’s strikes targeted the Popular Mobilization Forces, a militia coalition officially affiliated with the Iraqi government which played a key role in defeating ISIS in fierce battles between 2014 and 2017.
Sham War on Terror
Pointing to the PMF’s history of anti-terrorist operations, retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Earl Rasmussen told Sputnik that the US military’s strikes are further proof that Washington’s operations in the Middle East are “not really against ISIS.”
“They say they are, but they’re really not. If you look at them, they’ve supported ISIS indirectly. They’ve protected them. Al-Qaeda* as well. They can’t tell the American public that, but look at the weapons they’re using, the extremist groups, look at the conflict in Syria for many years,” the veteran officer said.
“Look at the Mujahideen in Afghanistan as well,” Rasmussen recalled, referring to the militia and terrorist group used by the CIA as a proxy against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“We’ve kind of nurtured extreme groups for years. And actually, you can even look at western Ukraine – the ultra-right neo-fascist groups there, Banderites essentially. We’ve nurtured them since after World War II. Many different classified CIA projects helped that. I think we use ISIS and al-Qaida to help maintain instability in the region and our potential influence or justification for us to have a presence there to ‘provide stability’. But in actuality, it just doesn’t provide stability.
And probably the key source of the instability there is our presence, our illegal presence in Syria and Iraq and the often, frequent escapades of Israel bombing adjacent countries as well as the treatment that they’ve put the Palestinians through over decades,” he stressed.
Saturday’s strikes signal a “very dangerous escalation” in the region, according to Rasmussen, who pointed out that it could easily grow into a crisis involving Iran, Russia and China.
“Depending on how long they’re going to do the strikes, how often, and how many facilities they’re going to bomb – it could escalate. The world is not what it was in 1991 and 2001. It’s different now. These militia groups are more coordinated, they’re better armed, they’re better trained. Iran is not the country it used to be. They’ve got hypersonic missiles…They’re trying to develop trade and economic growth in this region. This could escalate really bad, and I’m hoping there are some adults in the room in Washington, DC, but I don’t think so. I haven’t seen any so far,” Rasmussen lamented.
The observer also pointed out the hypocrisy of US efforts to label the PMF as “Iranian-backed militias,” saying that Washington is in no position to accuse others of being foreign-backed.
“These militias are pretty much independent. Okay, they get weapons and things from Iran. Yeah, alright, well who has weapons from the United States? I mean, look around the world. And ISIS has got our weapons and stuff, and Al-Qaeda. We’re providing weapons to Israel. So does that mean we’re – well, actually, we pretty much are participating in the genocide in Gaza,” Rasmussen summed up.
Clear Attempt to Reassert US Dominance
Saturday’s aggression constituted a “demonstration strike,” with its intention being an attempt by the US “to assert military and security dominance in the Middle East,” Dr. Imad Salamey, an associate professor of political science and international affairs at the Lebanese American University, told Sputnik, adding that unfortunately, he doesn’t expect the crisis to deescalate anytime soon as US forces in the region hunker down.
“While the Iraqi parliament is calling for a US withdrawal, it’s premature to expect immediate action,” the academic said. “In fact, considering the current developments, a US military buildup might be more likely in the near future rather than an imminent withdrawal. The situation remains unstable and evolving while the Biden administration needs to demonstrate ‘victory’ rather than defeat as the presidential elections draw near.”
Dr. Muhannad Alazzeh, a former Jordanian Senator and international legal and human rights commissioner, agrees, saying the “whole context” of the attacks relates to domestic considerations in Washington, specifically to Biden seeking “to avoid the Republicans’ rage since they accuse him of ‘being weak and hesitant’ toward Iran in particular when they compare him to his predecessor.”
US Has to Understand Concept of Blowback
The Biden administration’s Middle East policy, and attempts to pretend that militia attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria, and by the Houthis in the Red Sea, have ‘nothing to do with Israel’s war against Gaza’, reflect “either arrogance or ignorance” on Washington’s part, Dr. Alazzeh said.
“America shall understand and make Israel understand as well that they might be able to set fire In Gaza, West bank or any country individually but they absolutely can’t prevent its spreading to other countries, and this is exactly what’s happening now gradually,” Dr. Alazzeh stressed.