Not long after a funeral procession was held on Tuesday for the dozens of Shiite militants who were killed in the U.S. strikes, a large crowd of angry Kataib Hezbollah supporters as well as members of other militant groups connected to Tehran marched into the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad and proceeded to storm the U.S. Embassy.
Iraqi protesters who have demonstrated against Iranian influence in their country since October have been mercilessly killed by Iraqi security forces in recent months. Yet it seems that activists loyal to establishment-backed militias can gain access to a secured area without a single shot being fired. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is the largest of its kind in the world and was meant to project American might and presence in the region.
Instead of might, the besieging of the embassy showed that the United States could be humiliated. The militants, posing as “protesters” despite many wearing military fatigues and carrying militia banners, smashed through the main gate, battered down doors and set fires inside the compound before setting up camp outside. Their actions are a slap to the face of America’s self-perception as a force to be reckoned with and whose deterrence capability is enough to allow it to act unchallenged. As made clear by senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Washington aimed Sunday’s retaliatory strikes at “deterring Iran and protecting American lives.”
Clearly, however, Iran did not get the memo. Accompanying the pro-militant activists were some of Iran’s top made men in Iraq, including U.S.-blacklisted terrorist and Kataib Hezbollah commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who had on Monday threatened his group’s response “would be very tough on the American forces in Iraq.” Also present was Qais al-Khazali, the leader of the wildly sectarian Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, who has vowed to not let up until the U.S. presence in Iraq, diplomatic or otherwise, is removed.
But perhaps the most galling of all the attendees at the siege for U.S. officials is Faleh al-Fayyadh, the chairman of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group that includes many clients of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. After all, it was not that long ago that the U.S. Air Force was providing close air support to the Iraqi security forces and allied militias in their fight against Islamic State militants. Fayyadh was a regular figure in security forums held in Washington, London and even Moscow, and had the ear of senior officials from the most influential global powers.
Rather than curbing Iranian influence, the United States helped facilitate Tehran’s inroads to eclipse Washington all while pouring billions of dollars into supporting a government already compromised, as the recent leaked Iran spy cables show.
What the siege showed was that the United States has no friends in Iraq, or at least none that are effective.