Washington mounted airstrikes Dec. 29, targeting the Tehran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah militia, whose forces are part of Iraq’s military — hitting three sites in Iraq and two in Syria, killing at least 25 militia members. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned that Washington may take “additional actions” in response to “bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran.”
Washington said the strikes were retaliation for rocket attacks on an Iraqi army base near Kirkuk two days before that killed a U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. soldiers. According to the Wall Street Journal, this was the 11th time over the past two months that U.S. troops in Iraq were targeted by rocket fire.
Kataeb Hezbollah was formed in 2003 at the initiative of the reactionary clerical regime in Iran after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It was one of the first groups to dispatch fighters to Syria to support the dictatorial rule of Bashar al-Assad during the civil war there.
Both Washington and Tehran continue to clash as each government pushes to further its own economic, political and military interests in Iraq, Syria and other countries in the Middle East. Their conflict is part of broader clashes between U.S. and other imperialist powers, Moscow, Ankara and other regional capitalist rivals.
Iran’s capitalist rulers aim is to increase their regional power by force of arms, extending beyond Iran’s borders the nearly four-decade-long, cleric-dominated political counterrevolution that pushed back the workers, farmers, women and oppressed nationalities who carried out the historic Iranian Revolution of 1979. This was a powerful, modern popular social revolution, not a religious jihad as is falsely claimed by the U.S. rulers.
The attacks and counterattacks also take place amid continuing mass anti-government protests in Iraq against the effects of interference by both Washington and Tehran and the exacerbation of the grinding capitalist economic crisis on working people there. The day before the U.S. airstrike, anti-government protesters temporarily halted operations at the Nasiriya oilfield in southern Iraq.
Since Oct. 1 Iraqi government forces and Iranian-backed militia thugs have killed over 450 protesters and wounded some 25,000.
The mass mobilizations have forced Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to say he will step down and caused an ongoing political crisis in the country. But he remains in office until agreement on a replacement can be reached among Iraq’s political parties, all facing pressure from Tehran and Washington.
Trying to deliver a blow to these protests is one of the central aims of Tehran, their Iraqi militia forces and allies in the Iraqi government.
Pro-Tehran rally at U.S. Embassy
Iraqi government forces made no attempt to stop hundreds of militia fighters and supporters who entered the heavily fortified Green Zone and gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Dec. 31. This orchestrated move was falsely presented in the U.S. press as “protests.” Dozens of participants, many in Iraqi or militia fatigues or carrying flags of the Popular Mobilization Forces, smashed the gate and made a foray into the compound. Hundreds set up tents outside the embassy.
Many bourgeois forces were aware of the move. Yassine al-Yasseri, Iraq’s interior minister, and other government officials showed up there, as well as central leaders of the militias. Yasseri told AP that the prime minister had warned the U.S. that the airstrikes would have serious consequences.
U.S. forces kept most of the militia forces at bay with tear gas. The next day the embassy was reinforced by Apache helicopters and 100 additional Marines.
Senior leaders of the militias ordered their forces to withdraw Jan. 1 and they did so, taking down their camps. Some set up a new “camp” well outside the Green Zone. Kataeb Hezbollah said they had won a victory and would now seek withdrawal of U.S. troops through the nation’s parliament.
No end to toilers’ protests
Much of the bourgeois press claimed the U.S. missile attack and pro-Tehran militia action at the embassy had quieted the mass protests by Iraqi working people that have rocked the country for months. A number of protests leaders said this was a lie.
Al Jazeera visited Baghdad’s Tahrir Square Dec. 31, a main center of the anti-government protest movement. “We, the protesters of Tahrir Square, condemn the [U.S.] strikes of course, whether it be Iran or the U.S. who was responsible for them,” Ali Khraybit told the news service, stressing “the crowds in the Green Zone do not represent us.”
“Peaceful demonstrators [against the government] gave 400 lives but never allowed to get into the Green Zone,” Sarkawt Shams, a member of the Iraqi parliament from the Kurdistan region, tweeted Dec. 31. “How come these guys get in and reach US Embassy without any barrier?”
There are some 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, tasked with maintaining the U.S. capitalist rulers’ interests. Since May the Pentagon has sent more than 14,000 additional troops to the region. On any given day Washington has between 60,000 and 80,000 troops deployed in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
“Nothing the U.S. government is doing in Iraq and Syria is in the interest of working people there or here in the U.S.,” Naomi Craine, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate in Illinois, told the Militant Dec. 31. “Working people in the U.S. can aid the Iraqi people in their struggle by demanding U.S. troops and bases out now!”
Update: Jan. 3 statement by Naomi Craine, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Illinois
For the immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of U.S. troops, bases, weaponry and armaments from Iraq, Syria and the region!Click to download statement