The Morning Call

Iran’s al­lies on high alert in Trump’s fi­nal weeks in of­fice

- By Qas­sim Ab­dul-Zahra and Samya Kullab Military · U.S. News · Warfare and Conflicts · Middle East News · Politics · Elections · Middle East Politics · World Politics · Iran · Donald Trump · Baghdad · Middle East · United States of America · Joe Biden · Joe · Iraq · Afghanistan · Mark Esper · Air National Guard · Jerusalem · Tehran · Lebanon · Hezbollah · Israel · Baghdad Governorate · Hassan Nasrallah · Green

BAGH­DAD — Iran has in­structed al­lies across the Mid­dle East to be on high alert and avoid pro­vok­ing ten­sions with the U.S. that could give an out­go­ing Trump administra­tion cause to launch at­tacks in the U.S. pres­i­dent’s fi­nal weeks in of­fice, Iraqi of­fi­cials have said.

The re­quest — de­liv­ered by a se­nior Ira­nian gen­eral to al­lies in Bagh­dad this week — re­flects the grow­ing re­gional anx­i­ety over Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s un­pre­dictable be­hav­ior and the un­cer­tainty in the chaotic tran­si­tion pe­riod un­til Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Bi­den takes over Jan. 20.

Iran’s al­lies have col­lec­tively wel­comed Trump’s elec­tion de­feat. Un­der his pres­i­dency, ten­sions with Iran es­ca­lated, reach­ing fever pitch at the be­gin­ning of the year with the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top gen­eral, Qas­sim Soleimani. Iran launched a bal­lis­tic mis­sile at­tack in re­sponse to the fa­tal drone strike, tar­get­ing U.S. sol­diers in Iraq and wound­ing


Trump also uni­lat­er­ally with­drew Amer­ica in 2018 from Iran’s nu­clear deal with world pow­ers, meant to pre­vent it from de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons, and reim­posed pun­ish­ing sanc­tions on Iran, crip­pling its economy.

Iran has since aban­doned all lim­its on its ura­nium en­rich

ment pro­gram, even as the deal’s other in­ter­na­tional part­ners have tried un­suc­cess­fully to sal­vage it. The in­com­ing Bi­den administra­tion has stated plans to re­join or rene­go­ti­ate the 2015 nu­clear ac­cord.

But there is grow­ing con­cern over what Trump, who is re­fus­ing to con­cede the elec­tion, might do in the last days of his

pres­i­dency — in­clud­ing a po­ten­tial strike on Amer­ica’s en­e­mies abroad.

The con­cern does not ap­pear to be rooted in any­thing con­crete — Trump has or­dered a draw­down in U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanista­n to be com­pleted by mid-Jan­uary — but rather in gen­eral ner­vous­ness about the un­pre­dictabil­ity of

Trump’s ac­tions. His fir­ing of De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper two days af­ter the elec­tion trig­gered a flurry of spec­u­la­tion about whether it was re­lated to a broader plan to strike abroad.

Iraq, where the U.S.-Iran ri­valry has chiefly played out, is seen as a po­ten­tial arena. Fre­quent at­tacks against the U.S. Em­bassy in Bagh­dad in re­cent months led a frus­trated Trump administra­tion to threaten to close the mis­sion, a move that sparked a diplo­matic cri­sis and diplo­matic back chan­nel mes­sag­ing that led to an in­for­mal truce a few weeks ahead of the U.S. elec­tion.

Two months be­fore the Bi­den administra­tion takes over, Ira­nian Gen. Es­mail Ghaani, head of the Guard’s ex­pe­di­tionary Quds Force, de­liv­ered Tehran’s re­quest dur­ing a meet­ing with Ira­nian-backed Iraqi mili­tia fac­tions and Shi­ite politi­cians in Bagh­dad this week, ac­cord­ing to two se­nior Iraqi Shi­ite politi­cians who at­tended the meet­ings.

The mes­sage: Stand down to avoid giving Trump the op­por­tu­nity to ini­ti­ate a fresh tit-for­tat round of vi­o­lence. And to Iraqi Shi­ite paramil­i­taries: Be calm and cease at­tacks for now against Amer­i­can pres­ence in Iraq.

How­ever, if there was a U.S. ag­gres­sion by the Trump administra­tion, Iran’s re­sponse would “be in line with the type of strike,” one of the Iraqi politi­cians cited Ghaani as say­ing.

Mean­while, in Le­banon, the leader of the Iran-backed mil­i­tant Hezbol­lah group, Hasan Nas­ral­lah, warned fol­low­ers to be vig­i­lant dur­ing Trump’s re­main­ing weeks in of­fice.

“All of us should be on high alert in these next two months so that it passes peace­fully,” Nas­ral­lah said in tele­vised re­marks this month even as he urged fol­low­ers to “be pre­pared to face any dan­ger, ag­gres­sion or harm” and to re­spond in kind “if the US or Is­rael’s fol­lies go that far.

But only hours af­ter Ghaani de­liv­ered Iran’s mes­sage in Bagh­dad, a bar­rage of Katyusha rock­ets were fired at the Iraqi cap­i­tal’s heav­ily for­ti­fied Green Zone, land­ing a few hun­dred yards from the U.S. Em­bassy.

 ?? OF­FICE OF THE IRA­NIAN SUPREME LEADER ?? Gen. Es­mail Ghaani, head of Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard’s Quds Force, weeps as he prays over the cof­fin of Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 6 in Tehran, Iran.
OF­FICE OF THE IRA­NIAN SUPREME LEADER Gen. Es­mail Ghaani, head of Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard’s Quds Force, weeps as he prays over the cof­fin of Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 6 in Tehran, Iran.

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