Why is the U.S. attacking this Iraqi-Syrian border region on a regular basis

June 30, 2021 - 18:47

The Al Bukamal - Al Qaim border crossing has been subject to regular airstrikes by the U.S. military under both the former Trump administration’s era and the current Biden administration’s term in office. It has been widely documented that Daesh sleeper cells use this border area to travel between Iraq and Syria. Under both U.S. Presidents, Washington appears to be targeting the popular mobilization units (PMU).

The most effective force that defeated Daesh terrorists along the Iraqi-Syrian border as well as Iraq itself. The latest airstrike has killed four members of this very same force and destroyed their military facilities. It’s not a secret that the PMU strongly opposes the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

It’s also not a secret that PMU commanders have openly declared they are using military options to target U.S. forces in the country. And it’s no secret that the biggest U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria are located on either side of this border crossing area. According to the PMU, with the exception of the U.S. embassy, Iraqi armed forces have the legal right and moral duty to target all bases where U.S. forces are stationed as well as logistical supply convoys belonging to the occupation. 

Has there been a rise in attacks on U.S. forces?

We have indeed seen an increase in attacks following the U.S.-IRAQ Strategic Dialogue in early April this year. This was the second such talk involving high-ranking officials from both sides. The first took place in 2020 following a parliament bill that called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces after America assassinated Iranian Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and the deputy chief of the PMU Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis. Baghdad wants a clear and swift timetable from Washington that will end America’s occupation of Iraq. 

What happened at the talks? 

On both occasions, during these talks, Iraqi forces, in particular, the PMU observed a ceasefire. The aim of the ceasefire was to give the negotiations a chance for the occupation to end peacefully. However, the statements released following the Strategic Dialogue by the U.S. embassy in 2020 and the U.S. Department of State in 2021, said U.S. forces will transition from a combat role to a military advisory role. On both occasions, Washington failed to provide a timetable for its withdrawal, saying this will be discussed at a future stage. The failure by the U.S. to provide that timetable brought an end to both ceasefires. 

So what is the current nature of the U.S. presence in Iraq? 

Under the Iraqi constitution, which was backed by a parliamentary bill, there is no legal right for foreign combat forces to be present in the country. Some claim that U.S. forces are not occupying Iraq in a combat role. However, the PMU and other armed forces say facts on the ground beg to differ. For example, America uses Iraqi airspace as it pleases without the consensus of Baghdad. American airstrikes are killing Iraqi armed forces, on some occasions, the Federal police (a paramilitary force) or regular Iraqi army soldiers have been killed. On other occasions, it’s been mostly PMU forces. 

Why is America so opposed to the PMU? 

Washington describes the force as Iranian-backed Shia proxies, which (as mentioned in the first piece of this article) they are not. The PMU receive their paychecks from Baghdad, their pensions from Baghdad and they answer to the Iraqi commander in Chief, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadhimi. They also have more Sunni and Christian members than the regular army. To make matters worse for Washington, the Iraqi parliament legislation in 2016 integrated the PMU as an official branch of the country’s armed forces with equal rights as the other armed forces. Hardly Iranian is it? However, just like they spearhead the fight against Daesh, they are spearheading the fight against the American occupation. You could make a strong argument that they are the most efficient force when it comes to protecting the sovereignty of Iraq. Many political parties accuse Washington of interfering in the country’s politics and the pre/post-election process. 

Why would America be opposed to a sovereign Iraq? 

The occupation is more than just a military occupation. As was noted in the first part of this article, the U.S. occupation is being accused of destabilizing Iraq. This comes in different aspects. From (successfully) stoking infighting among Iraqis themselves to waging disinformation and propaganda campaigns against Iraq’s neighbor Iran to attempts at bringing Daesh terrorism back. 

What now? 

Basically, the PMU has declared war. This doesn’t mean world war three. What PMU commanders have said is that the level of U.S. airstrikes and any casualties afflicted will be met with an appropriate retaliation that they feel avenges the U.S. attack. One PMU commander says the U.S. will be surprised following the latest airstrikes that killed four PMU members in Iraq and a child in Syria. Multiple rocket attacks on a U.S. base in Syria’s Dayr al-Zawr province following the is believed to have been an initial response. The Pentagon says it is still assessing the situation. Reports suggest U.S. troops have suffered casualties. At the same time, the PMU says operations targeting the occupation will increase in numbers and sophistication until America accepts it can no longer stay in Iraq. In the past, the PMU had said it was open to dialogue with the U.S. through an intermediary on the condition that this dialogue focuses only on ending the occupation. 

Will this happen? 

According to the PMU, the Iraqi resistance successfully fought and kicked out a much larger American-led foreign military occupation that included hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of bases. 

What about Syria? 

Damascus (and many others) says the U.S. military occupation in Syria is totally illegal. Washington does not have a mandate from the United Nations to be in the country, nor permission from the Syrian government, not even a mandate from Congress. It is essentially looting Syrian oil, thereby preventing the revenue from helping the country recover from the ten-year war waged on it. America has also been strongly condemned for spearheading a campaign that alleges to be sending humanitarian aid to Idlib province. The only province in Syria that terrorist Takfiri groups control. The Syrian government argues this is not aid but support for terror groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra front. And other terror groups that regularly change their name but keep the same Takfiri extremist ideology. 

At the end of the day, a lot of profit is being made from this region remaining unstable. Much of that money ends up in the pockets of the U.S military-industrial complex; that sends weapons to monarchies and dictatorships in West Asia who, perhaps unknowingly, actually believe there is an ‘invisible’ threat from Iraq or Syria or Iran. Instead of using that money on services for their people, they send it to Washington DC. And so, once again, all roads lead to the al Bukamal - al Qaim border crossing region, where you have one side trying to bring peace, prosperity, and sovereignty; while the other side strongly opposes that idea.

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