Iranian proxy militants launched two drones targeting what Iran assessed to be an Israeli intelligence asset at Erbil International Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 11, 2021, possibly triggering an Israeli retaliatory strike on a proxy convoy in Abu Kamal, Syria, on September 14. Iran may have approved this attack after US and Israeli political and military leaders met in recent weeks to discuss their strategies for addressing the threat Iran poses to US, Israeli, and regional security. The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 New York terrorist attacks may have influenced the timing of the attack. Iran will likely maintain its ban on large-scale attacks on US facilities in Iraq until after Iraq’s October 10 elections and possibly until the end of 2021 unless the Iran-Israel escalation cycle spills further into Iraq.
Additional Israeli or US strikes on Iranian proxy assets inside Iraqi territory could re-open the escalation cycle, end the Iranian-ordered ceasefire, and trigger a resumption in Iranian proxy attacks on US assets in Iraq. The recent strikes also increase the risk of attacks on US assets in eastern Syria, which have previously faced rocket and drone attacks. One strong indicator for this trajectory has already been tripped: the leader of one Iranian proxy militia stated that the United States bears responsibility for the strike because it controls Iraqi airspace and because “everyone knows” that Israel cannot conduct strikes in Iraqi territory without US permission. The strikes were likely on the Syrian side of the border despite initial reporting that they took place in Qaim, on the Iraq side. Additional open-source indicators that Iran will rescind its ceasefire order would include statements by other Iraqi proxies asserting that the United States bears responsibility for the September 14 strikes and circulations of such claims by IRGC-affiliated Iranian media and additional surveillance drone flybys of US facilities. An escalation in the Syrian theater could also spill back into Iraq.
SOURCE: THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR