As the Trump administration would have it history began yesterday. On December 27 A rocket salvo struck a US base near Kirkuk killing a US contractor and wounding four US soldiers, as well as, according to the Americans, two Iraqi soldiers.
So two days later the US — deducing that the attack must have come from the Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary that right now hates the Americans’ guts the most — bombed five Kataib facilities on the Iraq-Syrian border, ie nowhere near Kirkuk, killing 25 and wounding 55 Kataib paramilitaries that almost certainly had nothing to do with the Kirkuk base attack themselves.
So according to the Americans albeit their airstrikes, against an outfit that is formally part of Iraq’s official security forces, may have technically violated Iraqi sovereignty that is a technicality since the paramilitary is a proxy for Iran, and in any case these Iranian proxies started it by killing an American first in attacks on guests of the Iraqi government.
Americans also suppose that since they have been granted basing rights in Iraq and the right to act militarily (against ISIS) on Iraq’s territory that comes with the right to defend themselves.
Americans also emphasize the attack allegedly by Kataib also wounded two Iraqi soldiers.
So the American telling is something like ‘Iranian proxies are attacking us who are guests of the Iraqi government and hurting Iraqi servicemen in the process, so we bombed them to defend ourselves and teach them a lesson.’
On its face that sounds almost reasonable, but there is a number of problems with such a retelling.
Firstly, as probably the single most influential man in Iraq, the Shia cleric al-Sistani pointed out, even if it were true that Kataib paramilitaries had gone rogue in attacking US facilities it does not follow that Americans, a foreign military with mere basing rights, have the liberty to take matters into their own hands and be the judge, jury and executioner in revenge attacks on a state-sanctioned paramilitary 500 kilometers from the place of the actual attack on the US base.
Secondly, there is a matter of scale. Because “Iranian proxies” (as Americans would have it) injured a pair of Iraqi servicemen it does not follow that Americans are now entitled to kill or wound seventy-seven Kataib paramilitaries who are also Iraqi servicemen.
Thirdly, unlike the Trump gang would have it, history did not begin on December 27th. Between July 19 and September 22 Iraqi paramilitaries were hit in their Iraqi bases on at least eight different occasions. In August the Israeli PM Netanyahu confirmed that Israel was carrying out these strikes “against Iranian consolidation”. (That was also just the latest escalation on top of Israeli strikes on Iraqi paramilitaries positioned against ISIS in eastern Syria.)
However, as Iraqis fully understand Israel does not have the capability to strike targets in Iraq (and eastern Syria) without US logistical and intelligence support and the political go-ahead. These were Israeli drone strikes but originating in US/Kurdish-controlled NE Syria and using US-controlled airspace. What is more, quite possibly the Americans were using their presence in Iraq to supply Israelis with intelligence on Kataib and other paramilitaries.
It is also around this time that small-scale artillery (mainly mortar) attacks on US facilities in Iraq started. The only thing new about the December 27 attack was that it resulted in a US fatality. So no, Iraqi paramilitaries did not all of a sudden, and out of the blue, started targeting Americans in Iraq because they are such obedient Iranian proxies, and on the behalf of Tehran, but because they were being killed in their own country (and in neighboring Syria) and the US was to blame.
There have been well over 50 Iraqi paramilitary fatalities in Iraq alone, before the first American died in a retaliatory attack. The blame here is not on Iran, the blame is on those who decided to pull Netanyahu’s chestnuts out of the fire even if it risked US troops in the region.
The only surprising thing about all of this has been how long it took for the backlash to catch up with the Trump gang. So of course instead of counting their lucky stars they went and escalated, so now they are going to reap a bigger backlash, quite possibly in the form of a renewed legal effort to oust them, albeit the nationalist Sadr has said he’ll be looking into “other means” if that doesn’t pan out.