Since the beginning of April, with the start of the Vienna talks for revamping Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers (JCPOA), drone strikes on US bases in Iraq have increased. Most of these attacks are attributed to militant groups affiliated with the Iranian regime, especially Kata’ib Hezbollah. The question is, is there a connection between the increase in attacks and the Vienna talks?
Interestingly, most of the news of these drone strikes was reported by the media affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) with pomposity.
Saberin News (April 29) reported that an explosion was heard at the Balad base (where the US military is stationed) and wrote:
“An unnamed Iraqi resistance group claimed responsibility for the attack on Balad Air Base.”
IRNA (May 8) reported: “The American base ‘Ain al-Assad’ in Anbar province has been targeted by a drone.”
According to the Moj news agency (June 26), the ‘Mosayef Salahuddin’ area in Erbil was targeted by a drone on Saturday morning. Some Iraqi sources said the drone strike targeted an area near the US consulate in Erbil.”
IRNA quoted the spokesman of the regime’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as defending the attacks and wrote: “The illegal and aggressive attacks by US forces on areas in eastern Syria are a clear violation of human rights and international law, and we strongly condemn it.”
Revolutionary Guards forming Hashad al-Shaabi
Rahim Safavi, advisor to the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei (January 11, 2021), in a speech in appreciation of former IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani, pointed to a part of this criminal’s actions and said:
“The commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC has formed in Iraq 22 brigades of Hashad al-Shaabi and in Syria 60 brigades of the people.”
Qassem Soleimani in a speech in June 2017 about the regime’s support of the proxy forces said: “The Ministry of Defense produces and sends weapons to Iraq non-stop.”
Then pointed to Khamenei’s full support and said: “Commander Hashad al-Shaabi was able to take the key to the door of the Islamic Republic’s weapons depots.”
According to the leaders of the regime, the paramilitary forces, and especially Hashad al-Shaabi, are Qassem Soleimani’s hand-made units, and of course, listen and obey the regime.
US counterattacks in Iraq and Syria
This time, however, the United States did not remain silent in the face of these attacks, and the President of the United States, in an explicit and direct order, bombed the positions of these forces in Iraq and Syria.
The New York Times on June 27, 2021, wrote: “At least five times since April, the Iranian-backed militias have used small, explosive-laden drones that divebomb and crash into their targets in late-night attacks on Iraqi bases — including those used by the C.I.A. and U.S. Special Operations units, according to American officials. So far, no Americans have been hurt in the attacks, but officials worry about the precision of the drones, also called unmanned aerial vehicles, or U.A.V.s.
“The drones are part of a rapidly evolving threat from Iranian proxies in Iraq, with militia forces specialized in operating more sophisticated weaponry hitting some of the most sensitive American targets in attacks that evaded U.S. defenses.
“Iran — weakened by years of harsh economic sanctions — is using its proxy militias in Iraq to step up pressure on the United States and other world powers to negotiate an easing of those sanctions as part of a possible revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Iraqi and American officials say Iran has devised the drone attacks to minimize casualties to avoid prompting U.S. retaliation.” (NYTimes, June 27, 2021)
In response, the Pentagon announced that the US military had targeted Iranian-backed militants in Iraq and Syria on Sunday, June 27, 2021:
The Pentagon statement concluded:
“At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region. The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq. Specifically, the U.S. strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries. Several Iran-backed militia groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), used these facilities.”
And CBS news wrote:
“A U.S. official said the locations that were hit included the site from which the drones took off, recovered, and were controlled. The official also said there have been “at least five” drone attacks by Iranian-backed militias against bases in Iraq where U.S. troops, contractors, or other personnel are located.
“The strike was carried out by U.S. F-15s and F-16s.” (CBS News, June 28, 2021)
The connection between the regime’s UAV and the JCPOA negotiation
About the connection between the regime’s UAV attacks implemented by its proxy forces and the JCPOA negotiation, the state-run daily Entekhab wrote:
“Analysts say pressure on the US by targeting its forces in Iraq could improve Tehran’s stance in Vienna talks on the nuclear issue.”
On the other hand, as all the officials participating in the talks say, after six rounds of talks, it is time to make a decision.
Will the Iranian regime’s pressure and drone strikes with its mercenaries in Iraq will affect US decisions? The coming days will make this clearer.