Why Iraq Remains Ripe for a U.S.-Iran Confrontation

Feb 4, 2020 | 10:30 GMT

Iraqis run for cover during an anti-government demonstration in Baghdad on Jan. 23, 2020. Protests have rocked Iraq since October but recently had abated amid spiraling tensions between the country's key allies, the United States and Iran.

Protesters run for cover on a highway in Baghdad during a Jan. 23 anti-government demonstration. Amid escalating political unrest, the Iraqi government will struggle to keep the country's armed militias from conducting an attack that pushes the United States and Iran toward war.

(AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)


  • Iraq is the most likely site for a U.S.-Iran confrontation in the coming months because of Iran's deep ties to several violent and capable Iraqi militias in close proximity to U.S. forces.
  • While the perception of a common U.S. threat will foster short-term cooperation between Iran-allied militias, Washington's assassination of a prominent Iraqi militia leader will ultimately increase competition between the country's rival armed forces.
  • This will make it all the harder for Baghdad to control militia-led violence, in addition to political violence being stoked by escalating anti-government protesters.

In Iraq, a mix of violent militias and volatile politics could provide the spark that sends Iran and the United States spiraling into an armed conflict -- and with it, any remaining shreds of stability in Baghdad. In June, the United States declared that the killing of any U.S. military personnel and other American citizens in Iraq would warrant retaliation. Washington then proved its willingness to enforce that red line in a series of raids and strikes following a rocket attack that killed an American contractor in December. In the aftermath of the Jan. 3 killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, it can be argued that a potential trigger for a full conflict between the two countries was narrowly avoided when an Iranian counterstrike with ballistic missiles didn't kill any U.S. troops in Iraq. But there is no guarantee that a follow-up round of clashes arising from another deadly attack wouldn't...

Keep Reading

Register to read three free articles

Proceed to sign up

Register Now

Already have an account?

Sign In