Despite the proliferation of the coronavirus in both countries, tensions between the United States and Iran continue to mount, particularly in Iraq. Recent weeks have seen a series of rocket attacks against U.S.-related targets in Iraq, followed by U.S. military retaliation. This tit-for-tat threatens further instability and even the all-out conflict that was avoided in 2019. Iraq remains without a confirmed prime minister, its parliament is under heavy pressure to expel U.S. troops, and, with U.S. elections approaching, there is considerable domestic pressure on the Trump administration to withdraw U.S. forces from Middle East hotspots, such as Iraq.
What is the future of the U.S. military and even diplomatic presence in Iraq? Will Washington and Baghdad agree to an arrangement or will U.S. troops be ordered to leave? How does this relate to internal power dynamics within Iraq and the scope of Iranian influence? Are the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces developing into a Hezbollah-like state within a state in Iraq, or is the government positioned to control the militias? And how can Iraq’s Gulf Arab neighbors help it develop a consolidated national government free independent of sectarian militias and Iranian hegemony?
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