The US Biden administration’s failure to revive the Iran Nuclear Deal and de-escalate tensions in both Syria and Iraq, has led to a new round of violence which rests solely on a stagnant Middle East policy maintained by hardliners in Washington.
Last year saw 7 rounds of indirect negotiations between Iran and the United States fall through, after Washington could not agree upon relieving its sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Instead of adopting a “diplomacy is back” stance, as US President Joe Biden swore to do in February, 2021, the Biden administration has behaved more or less the same way as his much loathed predecessor’s government.
Under US President Donald Trump, the “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign, condemned by the International Court of Justice as illegal, along with the assassination of Iran’s top General, proved to set the stage for tensions to boil again to the brink of war. On January 3, Iranians and Iraqis again mourned the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s Quds Force and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a leader of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU). The mourners marked the 2nd anniversary of the killings and caused much outcry when Iran’s President announced in a speech that leading members in the former US governments administration, including Trump himself, should be brought before a court or revenge should be dished out.
Although this was not a direct threat of Iran’s intent to launch similar strikes against US forces, as it did shortly after the drone strike assassination took place in 2020, most certainly it has made one thing abundantly clear, tensions will escalate. The US Biden administration has been responding with airstrikes against the PMU and Syrian militias, in North Eastern Syria since the third of January, after strikes on their forces. In Iraq, a number of rocket attacks have also targeted the US Embassy in Baghdad, as well as military facilities where American forces are based surrounding the Baghdad airport.
These attacks, in Syria and Iraq, have been brought on by a failed US policy in the region and will likely escalate given the hardline tactics of the Biden administration. For one, the agreement struck between Washington and Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mustapha al-Kadhimi, last July, to have US forces end their combat mission inside the country, has been outed as political theatre and this has left the Iraqi-PMU with no option but to increase pressure on the United States to fully withdraw from Iraq, as is their final objective. Despite the US trying to depict the supposed ending of their combat mission as a type of draw-down from Iraq, they made it all too clear that the level of US forces present in Iraq was not going to change any time soon, in fact, it may only increase due to the expansion of NATO’s training and advisory mission in the country.
In Syria, frustration is constantly growing with the US occupation of a third of Syrian territory. Despite the likes of Antony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State, having admitted his role in a failure of regime change policy in Syria, no tangible change has come. The US is managing to also anger its ally, or proxy force for occupying North Eastern Syria, the Kurdish ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF), as it is clear the US will no longer commit to their failed attempt at Federalizing Syria. The US seems to be in Syria for the purpose of preventing Russia from forcing an agreement between Damascus and the SDF, additionally punishing Syria by keeping 90% of its oil resources and most fertile agricultural lands out of their hands. This, and combating Iran’s influence inside Syria.
If the Biden administration does not adopt a realistic Middle East foreign policy this year, it could spell disaster for them and the region as a whole. The first step at cooling tensions would be to revive the Iran Nuclear Deal. If this is achieved, then the US at least has some room to de-escalate tensions, but continuing to behave like the neighborhood bully will certainly not work, especially now that some of the kids on the block are able to stand up to that bully and send him packing.