The destruction of over 500 oil trucks on the Iran-Afghanistan border could be America’s response to the IED damages done to U.S military convoys by Iran-sponsored groups in Iraq. There are strong indications that Iran and America are currently in a circle of tit-for-tat violence. The Erbil attack on a U.S military base may be Iran’s retaliation for the oil sabotage.
Attacks On U.S Convoys After Biden Took Office
On January 21, 25, February 7, 8, and 10th of this year, Iraqi militias attacked U.S convoys with IEDs in various locations across Iraq, sometimes more than once in 24 hours. The attacks all had one thing in common: causing material damage, but no casualties.
The Trump administration had largely ignored these attacks because the militias avoided harming or killing U.S soldiers, and Trump didn’t want to start a war in an election year. But Biden is apparently determined to stop it. Whether or not he succeeds remains to be seen.
Biden Retaliates For The IED Attacks
On February 11th, there was a mysterious drone strike on an Iranian arms shipment in Syria. It was similar to the attacks on U.S convoys in that it did not kill any Iran-backed militias, but destroyed the truck totally.
The weapons cache was bound for an Iran-backed Syrian militia, Al-Haydariyun, and occurred near Syria’s border with Iraq. Al-Haydariyun held the U.S military responsible for that attack. America didn’t deny the accusation. On that same day, U.S led coalition forces reportedly targeted other Iran-backed militias in Syria, killing 12h. Media outlets monitoring the Syrian war didn’t think Israel was involved in either attack.
America did not say why it attacked the Syrian militias. In the past, the U.S gave reasons like, the militias were approaching U.S forces in Syria, threateningly. And sometimes, the U.S let Israel do the bombing to avoid taking responsibility. The fact that no justification was given for the attack suggests that the U.S likely retaliated for Iran’s harassing rocket attacks on U.S convoys in Iraq.
Two days after the strike that killed 12 Iran-backed militias in Syria, a massive oil-truck explosion incident occurred that caused damages of up to $50 million to Iran.
Oil Truck Explosion Appears Unusual
As of updating this article on February 20, Iran is yet to announce what caused the oil disaster at the Iran-Afghanistan border. With so many witnesses around, it shouldn’t take long to determine whether the incident was an accident or sabotage. However, Iran has a habit of taking weeks to admit or announce sabotage.
My bet is that the U.S have sabotaged Iran again. The idea of oil trucks accidentally blowing up in such large numbers within a short time doesn’t resonate with me, especially following the series of violence immediately preceding the event.
More than 60 people could not escape without injury, and a few died. Having seen several fire accidents involving oil trucks, I know that it takes some minutes for pressure to build before the release valve of a truck pops open to allow flame and gas into the air.
When one truck explodes and fire touches another from the outside, it should be at least some minutes before the latter truck explodes. People should be able to escape after the first explosion, unless it happened too fast and in multiple locations that blocked their exit.
A witness said the blaze started with small-arms fire, but he didn’t specify whether it was in one or multiple locations. One witness said, “I was receiving refugees at the center, when we heard loud explosions. We all panicked and started running away.”
Again, the fact that two of the explosions were huge enough to be seen from space further intensifies my suspicion that this could be sabotage. It would be pretty easy for someone to plant explosives strategically among hundreds of parked trucks.
Deadly Rocket Attack On American Forces
Two days after the oil disaster, 14 rockets slammed into the U.S military base at Erbil international Airport. Due to the severity of the attack, several people were injured, including one U.S soldier. One non-American died. It was a miracle that no U.S soldier was killed. That attack was really close and very unusual.
America has vowed revenge and is currently in the process of establishing culpability. blame will likely go to one of Iran’s militias. The White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “We are outraged by last night’s rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. As always, the President of the United States and the administration reserves the right to respond in the time and the manner of our choosing. But we’ll wait for the attribution to be concluded”
That same day, a group going by the name, Awliyaa al-Dam (Guardians of Blood) took credit for the attack, stating the following:
“The American occupation will not be safe from our strikes in any inch of the homeland, even in Kurdistan, where we promise we will carry out other qualitative operations.”
Awliyaa al-Dam had claimed responsibility for at least two separate attacks on U.S convoys, but they never targeted American soldiers directly until February 15th. This indicates that something provoked the militias to act that way. There has been no report of U.S forces targeting any militias in Iraq. It’s a wonder what exactly provoked that deadly rocket attack.
Are Iran-Backed Militias Responsible For The Rocket Attack?
The militias in Iraq do not act like random independent groups. New names continue to pop up, but their activities are well-coordinated. American and Iraqi intelligence officials believe that a dozen or so Shiite militant groups in Iraq, including Awliyaa al-Dam, are acting as a front for prominent Iran-backed groups like Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
There are indications, with a high degree of confidence, that the Iran-backed militia, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), a group the U.S and others designate a terrorist organization, is responsible for the Erbil rocket attack.
Iran is trying to get the U.S to rejoin the nuclear deal due to unbearable economic sanctions. Provoking America by such an unusually large-scale and fatal attack is certainly counterproductive to that effort. It follows that Iran must have a pretty good incentive to green-light the attack.
A $50 million damage to Iran’s trade with Afghanistan, several dead and injured, is a strong enough provocation for the Mullahs to retaliate against American forces, especially with so much economic pressure on Iran.
What Does All This Mean?
If this was Biden’s way of deterring any further attacks on U.S supply convoys in Iraq (by imposing cost on Iran), the message from Iran was that Biden has failed to achieve that deterrence. By following the Erbil rocket attack with another non-fatal attacks on U.S convoys on the 17th and 18th, Iran is sending the message that, there will be retaliation for any American attack on Iran, and that militia attacks on convoys will continue undeterred.
Of course Iran predictably denies responsibility for the rocket attack. America won’t confess to sabotaging Iran’s oil trucks either, neither did it openly take credit for the attacks on Iran’s militias in Syria. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Iran denied responsibility. Actually, Iran hardly ever admits responsibility for any militias attacks.
Hopefully, the tit-for-tat ends with this large-scale rocket attack. The regular militia attacks are just a way of putting pressure on the U.S to lift sanctions on Iran. Following the rocket strike in Erbil, NATO announced plans to expand its presence in Iraq with an additional 3500 troops.
NATO’s announcement is probably a signal from Biden that the U.S will not tolerate any more harassing attacks on U.S military convoys in Iraq. The U.S also promised to hold accountable all that were involved, which almost certainly includes Iran. Hence, we can expect retaliation for every attack on a U.S convoy. But whether any retaliation would be directly against Iran or its militias is an open question. My guess is both.
Confining America’s retaliation to Iraq’s militias would make Biden look weak. Yet, taking the fight to Iran, like with the oil sabotage, risks American lives in Iraq. Biden doesn’t want to be dragged into a fight with Iran’s militias in Iraq. Iran on the other hand may not careless whether or not the U.S fights a second insurgency in Iraq, provided America doesn’t take the war to Iran. By setting clear redlines and convincing Tehran that any war in Iraq would involve Iran, Biden may bring an end to the non-fatal IED attacks.
The harassing attacks would likely cease should the U.S and Iran return to the nuclear deal or strike a new one. So far, Biden has refused to move first, although the U.S just took some positive steps towards reviving the deal.
Despite promising revenge, which means some kind of attack on Iran or its militias, the Biden administration took steps to ease tension with Iran. On 19th, Biden voided Donald Trump’s efforts to reinstate U.N sanctions on Iran. Biden also called off restrictions on Iranian officials serving at the UN, and the U.S also agreed to join an informal meeting brokered by the E.U. involving parties to the nuclear deal. Although these steps do little to ease Iran’s economic pain, it is a positive sign.
Nothing is certain about the oil incident. It could have been sabotage or an accident. Either way, it does look like the tense situation between Iran and the U.S will de-escalate soon (thus, if the EU brokered talks yield results). We can also expect to see a reduction in violence against U.S forces in Iraq as America and Iran engage in talks. But this depends largely on Iran. Will Iran rein-in its militias? What would Biden do if the IED attacks continue?