War or Not war, Iraq Is The Victim of The US-Iran Tension

War or Not war, Iraq Is The Victim of The US-Iran Tension
The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) is on its way to the Middle East on April 13, 2019. Photo Credit: Military Times
:: PM:04:44:29/05/2019 ‌
The tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated rapidly. The US dispatched an aircraft carrier ship--Carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72)-- towards Persian Gulf after intelligence reported possible Iranian attacks on some American targets in the region, especially in Iraq and Syria.

Author

Payraw Anwar
Is a freelance political writer and journalist based in Erbil. He holds a bachelor degree in political science from Salahaddin University-Erbil.
Despite the US administration’s decision to send more troops to the Middle East, several indicators show that the military mobilization would not lead to a major war. But the US just contain Iran and its regional hegemony, in particular its proxy militias in the whole region, as long as the militias would not target the US’ military bases and interests. In the long run, the real question will be: Can the U.S. administration’s maximum pressure successfully contain Iran in the region without sparking a war? Also, how the events will affect Iraq as it has become and will be the center of their confrontation?

Pressuring Iran Till It Kneels 

The objective of maximum pressure by the US is to soften Iranian Regime to accept a new deal related to geopolitical map of the region to be drawn again with the less Iranian influence. To get there, the US used only the stick but in many different forms. It targeted many sectors in the Iranian economy while the US showing readiness to engage in any mass military operation. 
Appointing John Bolton, as the U.S. National Security Advisor who is trying to put a military agenda on the table, and he has been a long advocate of removing the regime in the country. This is to show that Iran has two choices, and the best one is Donald Trump’s approach in which he is trying to bring Iran to negotiation table. In short, US showing that there is no escape plan, and sooner or later Iran has to give up. 
As he promised, Donald Trump withdrew from The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iranian Nuclear Deal which was signed P5+1 and Iran in 2015. Trump unilaterally polled out from the deal and imposed severe sanctions on Iranian economy and successfully lowered down the country’s oil export to below 500,000 bpd, from 2.5 million bpd export in April 2018.
For the US, limiting Iranian influence over Iraq is one of the key objectives behind the whole conflict. Toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 gave Iran a great opportunity to enter Iraq and exercise its influence in all parts of the country. Leveraging Iraq’s security and military forces, foreign relations, investment, and natural resources, Iran is able to marginalize certain communities and political parties in favor of its proxies or alliances. It has played a crucial role through political channels and institutions in shaping major Iraqi events like government formation process and national elections. Plus, it has multiple proxy militias under the umbrella of Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F) which is part of the Iraqi Federal security forces.
The Iranian presence appeared as a real threat to the U.S. interests. When Arab Spring protests erupted in Syria, Iran commenced to make a way from Tehran to Damascus through Iraqi territories to rescue Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Since then, Iran was successfully sending and transferring military aids and personnel to Syria. 
Trump is attempting to limit the Iran’s regional interventions peacefully. Military attack or toppling Iranian regime is still not a choice for Trump regardless of Bolton’s encouragement. Trump wants a comprehensive agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program and military influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. 

From the Iranian Side

Generally, Iran is under a huge economic pressure while the U.S. sanctions paralyzed many important economic sectors in the country. The Islamic Republic of Iran has no choice except for accepting a new negotiation round because neither Iranian people nor their political regime are handling the ongoing economic crisis well.
The U.S sanctions are dramatically exacerbating Iran’s economy. The country’s inflation rate hiked to 51.4 in April 2019 , from 9.7 in May 2018. Its unemployment rate also raised to12.2. The indicators can show the country’s GDP is going to minus.  
Staying under current pressure will cause Iran not only to lose its regional hegemony but also weakening its political and sectarian position if they will decide to confront the US as some of their top military officials are continuously claiming. Therefore, Iran’s best interest, according to all rational calculations, is to start a new negotiation round with the Trump’s administration.  

How the US-Iran Tensions Impact Iraq?

Since 2003, the US has shaped many aspects of Iraqi politics and having a great military and political presence in the country gave it upper hand in the country. Meanwhile, Iran has always been influential neighbor to Iraq, and home for many of the Iraqi opposition parties during Saddam Hussein era. 
Since 2003, Iran has become a close friend to Iraq, and this can be seen in many aspects. The trade volume between the two countries is $12 billion. Also, Iraq depends on Iranian natural gas and electricity power in many areas, including oil rich city of Basra. The interaction of the both countries’ economies is in a level that many Iraqis felt the pain of the US sanctions. 
If the US-Iran tension escalates further to a military confrontation, Iraq will be the most affected country in the region. Some Iranian backed militias within PMF, Shia dominated armed groups, most likely will target the US bases which hosts hundreds of U.S. military personals and advisers. In this situation, Iraq will be the battlefield for proxy or direct confrontation, and it will be the country to pay the biggest price. 
Even if the PMF do not attack the US interests in Iraq during a direct confrontation between the US and Iran, Iraq still be under the mercy of the Iranian missiles which can easily reach any corner of the country. Previously, Iran has targeted the Iranian opposition parties in Iraq through mid-range missiles. 
Besides, any US-Iran confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz, rout of approximately 85% percent of the current Iraq’s oil exports, will dramatically affect Iraqi economy. The oil export is counted for more than 90% of the government revenues. Although PM Adil Abdul Mahdi stated that Iraq will rely on the Kurdistan’s oil pipeline if the US-Iran conflict lead to close the Strait of Hormuz, but technical capacity of the pipeline can’t be more than 1 million bpd, while Iraq’s oil exports is currently about 4 million bpd. The expected problem, simply, tells that Iraqi oil exports would lower by more than 85%. 
So far, the U.S. administration has tried to reach a new deal with Tehran away from military options or encouraging Iranians to overthrow their political regime. Donald Trump’s agenda is to totally contain Iran and Iranian backed militias in the region, but if the situation escalates, the whole region, especially Iraq, will be an open battlefield that may bring a long devastating war.