Report: unpacking the strategic implications of US retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria

Report: unpacking the strategic implications of US retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria

Shafaq News/ The Australian website "The Conversation" cautioned that the prolonged conflict in Gaza heightens the potential for attacks by Iranian-backed armed factions on American military bases and other targets. It deemed the strikes carried out by Washington against these factions in Iraq and Syria as an "appropriate response."

In a report published on Feb 3, The Conversation reported that the United States mounted more than 125 retaliatory strikes against Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias at seven military sites in Iraq and Syria on Feb 2, 2024, after a drone strike killed three US soldiers and injured 34 more in Jordan on Jan 28.

The retaliatory strikes, which US military officials say hit 85 targets, including command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, and munition supply chain facilities, are the latest chapter in the Middle East conflict, which President Joe Biden has tried to avoid escalating.

The Conversation US spoke with Gregory Treverton, a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council in the Obama administration, to understand the strategic thinking behind this retaliatory attack.

Asked about some factors that likely played a role in the US decision to launch a retaliatory strike and when to launch it, Treverton said, "Regarding timing, the president may have wanted to get the bodies of the service people who were killed in Jordan back home and give some time for everyone to think. In the last few days, we saw that Iran and Iraq did put pressure on some of the proxy groups to wind down their operations. In one case, one of these Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq agreed to cease operations this last week. Iran also said that they do not want a wider war with the US."

"With the time it took Biden to authorize the strike, it also gave the Iranian soldiers and others time to move out of harm's way, if they wanted to leave the military bases."

The former chairman pointed out that Biden had already committed to making some response, and he was under all kinds of political pressure to do something. "But he still appears to be trying to avoid further escalating the conflict."

Biden, for example, avoided striking Iranian territory directly, though some Republicans had pressured him to do so. He explained.

The Conversation asked the former US official if Iran wanted to avoid a war with the US. But its proxy group just struck a US military base. Does that imply some sort of internal friction there?

"In our own country's experience with proxy groups, we know that they have their own interests, and there are also the interests that we share. Sometimes, proxy groups that the US has backed act in a way we don't like and are just in their own interest. These proxy relationships are always complicated, in that sense."

Treverton suggested that even if Iran wants to avoid further escalation with the US, "my guess is that many of these groups would not mind a broader conflict happening if their goals are more apocalyptic, such as destroying Israel."

Concerning the accomplishment of the retaliatory strikes, he thought, "they accomplish fulfilling the Biden administration's commitment to do something significant and respond to the drone strike killing US soldiers. The response itself is measured enough so far that it is unlikely to escalate the conflict dramatically, though we could be surprised by that."

"Overall, it is a calibrated measure that plainly is not going to entirely degrade the military capacity of any of these groups. But it should still have a pretty significant effect and weaken their military capabilities, at least to some extent."

The US official said the wider possible context is that the US strikes make it all the more important to…

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