National Security & Defense

The Approaching (and Necessary) Showdown with Iran in Iraq

(File photo: US Army)

We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq; any such American force will become a primary target for our group. We fought them before, and we are ready to resume fighting.

That was what a Kataib Hezbollah (KH) spokesman told Reuters yesterday, after learning that the U.S. is sending a special-operations task force to Iraq. Albeit long overdue, this deployment offers a welcome opportunity to escalate the U.S. air campaign against ISIS and enable better direction of coalition efforts on the ground. Regardless, the threats of blood-soaked sectarian fanatics Kataib Hezbollah cannot be taken lightly. As I’ve noted previously, KH is an Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) proxy force and an element of the Shiite-militia Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq.

This latest KH threat demands special attention. For a start, the threat is Iranian in origin. This is proved by the fact that Iran’s Press-TV propaganda news outlet was crowing about the threat yesterday. But KH’s threat also flows with recent Iranian strategy: In recent months, KH has been waging an escalating terrorist campaign against Iraq’s government and moderate Iraqi Shiite leaders. Put simply, Iran is using KH as a deniable actor to try to coerce Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi to yield to Iran’s dominion. Iran wants Abadi to believe that he has no choice but to bend in fealty to their power-drill autocracy. In that regard, I’d wager that this U.S. special-operations deployment is designed to consolidate Abadi’s government as well as confront ISIS. Indeed, Defense Secretary Ash Carter hinted at this yesterday when he told Congress that “despite [Abadi’s] efforts, sectarian politics and Iranian influence have made building a multi-sectarian Iraqi Security Force (ISF) difficult. . . . ” Carter added, “The raids in Iraq will be done at the invitation of the Iraqi government and focused on defending its borders and building the ISF’s own capacity.”

#share#Iran doesn’t like this message. Consequentially, the coming days will be critical for Iraq and for the United States. After all, Iran will watch carefully for signs of timidity from the Obama administration. As I noted last week, since 2011, when Iran’s leaders suffered no consequences for their attempt to blow up the Saudi ambassador in a Washington restaurant, they have believed President Obama is weak. As such, if the IRGC leadership senses American weakness, it will take hostile action (directly, via KH, or via covert subgroups) against U.S. interests. Recognizing this threat, President Obama must make clear that terrorism against U.S. interests will meet punishing reprisals. To be explicit, the IRGC must know that America will meet force with force.

#related#Nevertheless, American resolve alone won’t be enough. As I’ve explained, the key to defeating the Islamic State and restoring Iraqi cross-sectarian stability rests with the Sunni tribes of Anbar and eastern Syria. As an extension, the U.S. forces now heading to Iraq must have a remit to engage the tribes and mobilize a unified Sunni insurgency against ISIS.

But we must be clear-eyed. American victory doesn’t require just the destruction of ISIS, it requires Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s realization that America will not abandon Iraq to his hordes.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at

Most Popular

Economy & Business

Who Owns FedEx?

You may have seen (or heard on a podcast) that Fred Smith so vehemently objects to the New York Times report contending that FedEx paid nothing in federal taxes that he's challenged New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger to a public debate and pointed out that "the New York Times paid zero federal income tax ... Read More

The Kaepernick Saga Drags On . . . off the Field

Colin Kaepernick’s workout for NFL teams in Atlanta this weekend did not run smoothly. The league announced an invitation to scouts from every team to watch Kaepernick work out and demonstrate that he was still ready to play. (As noted last week, the workout is oddly timed; the NFL season is just a bit past its ... Read More

Israel’s New Way of War

Commuters on Route 4, driving toward the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod on November 12, were shocked by an explosion, a rocket impact next to a major intersection. Had it fallen on a car or one of the many trucks plying the route, there would have been deaths, and the road would have been closed. Instead, police ... Read More
White House

Decide Trump’s Fate at the Ballot Box

If Donald Trump’s presidency is going to end before 2025, it should end at the ballot box. A lot of what has been revealed by Trump’s desire to see Ukraine investigate Joe and Hunter Biden -- or at least publicly announce an investigation -- merely confirms character traits, instincts, and habits that have ... Read More