Iraq: Dangerous Trend of Unlawful Military Interventions in Arab States Must End

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) condemns the assassinations of Iranian commander, General Qassem Soleimani, and the Iraqi Deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Committee (Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, on January 3, 2020, and the following January 8 retaliatory measures taken by Iran against Iraqi military sites hosting US troops.  This attack was a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and is already fueling a spiral of conflict between the United States and Iran in which the primary victims will be Iraqi people and the already weak institutions of the Iraqi state.

These recent attacks by the United States, and continuing military intervention in the region by Iran, Russia in Syria and, more recently, Libya, illustrate the alarming trend of Arab states becoming a theater for great power competition. Since 2011, Arab states have become battlefields in regional conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran and their allies.  Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have all intervened in military conflicts beyond their borders fueling escalating cycles of violence and civilian suffering.

Soleimani has been the primary architect of Iran’s strategy of expanding its regional influence by supporting pro-Iranian militia forces across Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.  While these militias have claimed legitimacy because of their opposition to Sunni extremist groups like ISIS, they have also been responsible for much violence against civilian populations, most notably in Syria, and have fueled sectarian divisions between Shi’ites and Sunnis.

In recent months, Iran-backed militias under Soleimani’s control have been responsible for the brutal suppression of popular protests in Iraq calling for an end to Iranian interference in Iraq, with hundreds of protesters killed and many more detained. These militias were involved in recent attacks on military bases in Iraq where US and other forces were training Iraqi forces to fight against ISIS. These attacks, on forces that were operating in Iraq at the invitation of the government, resulted in the killing of a US military contractor in Iraq on December 27, which was the immediate cause of the current sharp escalation of tension between Washington and Tehran.  The Iran-backed militia also carried out the attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on December 31, the precursor to the killing of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis.

“While Soleimani was a leader of illegitimate Iranian military intervention in states across the region, his killing by illegitimate military intervention from another state only illustrates the potential for further escalation.  If Iran is projecting military force beyond its borders why should other regional powers like Saudi Arabia or Turkey show restraint?  Even more dangerously, if a great power like the United States is not constrained by international law, what is to stop any country in the world following the same path if it sees advantage in doing so?” said Neil Hicks, Advocacy Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

Ending this destructive pattern of foreign interventions will require fundamental changes at the national, regional and international levels.

National governments should meet their obligations to uphold the basic rights and freedoms of their people and build the foundations for stability and progress by meeting legitimate demands for human dignity that have motivated protest movements in many countries in recent months.

At the regional level, Arab governments and powerful regional states like Iran and Turkey should root their relations in international law and build cooperation in all vital spheres on the basis of respect for human rights.

The international community, if it wishes to see an end to destabilizing conflicts in the region, and in order to address concerns like terrorism and unregulated migration, must turn away from policies that fuel war crimes and gross violations of human rights.  All states must turn away from military strikes as policy and instead renew sustained efforts to end conflicts across the region, and build functional states with representative governments that meet the needs of their people.

To break the cycle of escalatory violence, the international community must meet its responsibilities to empower, not to weaken or disregard, the UN and allow its different agencies to carry out their functions in mediation and institution building.

Photo: American forces in Iraq – source

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