On 23 December, President Donald Trump issued a threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran over Sunday’s attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad, which it claimed was conducted by an Iranian-backed militia group. Middle Eastern experts have explained the US president’s move and discussed whether the White House will resort to a strike against Tehran.
About 21 missiles landed in Baghdad’s Green Zone compound targeting the American Embassy on 20 December, according to a US Central Command statement. Although the strike caused no US injuries or casualties it did damage buildings in the compound, the statement says, stressing the attack “was clearly not intended to avoid casualties” and pinning the blame on an “Iranian-backed rogue militia group”.
Tensions continue to escalate in the region as roughly a month ago Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was shot dead by a remote-control weapon east of Tehran. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which Iran believes was conducted by Israel and an exiled opposition group. The killing evoked strong memories of a drone assassination of Quds Commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020.
Why is Trump Stepping Up Rhetoric Against Iran?
“President Trump is apparently keen on punishing Iran to the extent that he can, prior to not having the power to do so in less than two months”, suggests Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American journalist, author, and commentator, outlining five possible reasons behind the president’s toughened rhetoric:
· first, Trump would like to see a Biden administration struggle to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, which he left in 2018;
· second, perhaps it’s revenge for Iran not bowing to his demands and not agreeing to meet with him and negotiate a new deal;
· third, it’s probably because Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran has failed and he, nevertheless, wishes to pursue it to the bitter end;
· fourth, it’s apparently the growing influence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an old Iran hawk, in crafting US foreign policy until 20 January;
· fifth, Israeli and Saudi concerns over Washington’s projected rejoining the JCPOA could also be at play here.
Trump’s apparent frustration over “his extreme pressure campaign failing to bring Iran to its knees” and his probable intent to “poison the relations so badly that it would make it excruciatingly difficult for Biden to return to the JCPOA” are the major causes behind the president’s latest threats, believes Dr Gal Luft, co-director of the US-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.
“This fits a tradition of presidents trying to influence their successors from the other party. I see the Trump administration taking steps in its final days to impede a return by Biden to the JCPOA”, echoes Daniel Pipes, an American historian, writer, and commentator.
In November, Trump slapped a new batch of sanctions on Iran’s Mostazafan Foundation and about 160 of its subsidiaries allegedly linked to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as on Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi and a number of other individuals. The US president was even said at the time to be considering a potential strike against an Iranian nuclear site, according to The Wall Street Journal.