Why is Iran attacking targets in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan?

(CNN Spanish) — The Middle East is experiencing one of the worst escalations in violence since the emergence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 and even since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Gaza Strip has been at the center of the war since the extremist organization Hamas launched a brutal terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, killing 1,200 Israelis, resulting in 24,000 Palestinian deaths in Israeli attacks. The Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health. But this is not the only source of conflict.

Violence continues to increase in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with a terror attack reported in Ra’anana in central Israel on Monday. Israel and the Hezbollah group have been fighting for weeks along the northern border with Lebanon.

Also in the Red Sea, Houthi rebels who occupy much of Yemen and are backed by Iran have been attacking cargo ships – which they say is in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza – and last week the United States and Britain launched attacks. In retaliation, their positions were bombed.

Protesters and members of Iran’s Basij military unit march during an anti-Israel demonstration to express solidarity with the Palestinians in Tehran on November 24, 2023. (Photo credit: HOSSEIN BERIS/Middle East Pictures/AFP, Getty Images)

Iran is one of the major players in the region, and in early January an explosion occurred in Kerman during a commemoration of the death of General Qassem Soleimani in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the region’s history. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

Now, Iran itself has become the protagonist of the latest incident, attacking the strongholds of “anti-Iranian terrorist groups” in Iraqi Kurds, Syria and Pakistan.

For its part, Tehran said it attacked an Israeli spy base in the northern city of Erbil in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Israel has yet to take a position on the matter.

In northern Syria, Iran claimed attacks on group positions linked to attacks by the Islamic State in Kerman.

A day later, Iran used “precision missiles and drone strikes” to attack Jaish al-Adl positions in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, triggering a strong reaction from Islamabad over “unprovoked violations of its airspace.”

The eternal powder keg in the Middle East seems to have been ignited. At the beginning of 2024, the whole world is paying attention and looking forward to this region, which seems to be full of challenges and complexities, including the ongoing war in Ukraine, global tensions, etc. Relations between the United States and China – with growing focus on Taiwan – and the economic difficulties of the post-pandemic world will be debated by world leaders in Davos.

Iran is a sworn enemy of Israel, a guarantor of Hezbollah and the Houthis, and has increasingly close ties with Hamas. The latest move is a concrete escalation that returns attention to Syria and Iraq. The state was at the center of the last conflict. A major crisis hit the Middle East in 2014 with the emergence of ISIS, which emerged in Iraq in the chaos that followed the 2003 U.S. invasion and also in neighboring Pakistan.

Indeed, as the fight against ISIS began at that time, Iran significantly increased its presence and influence in Iraq and Syria, often in collaboration with Russia and supporting local groups and factions contrary to the United States and U.S. preferences. its allies.

Iraq, a territory that hosts bases for the U.S.-led international coalition and groups fighting Iran, including a local variant of Hezbollah – both of which have been involved in conflict more than once – is still recovering from the war. The fight against ISIS The operation ended in 2017 with the recapture of territory captured by the terrorist group.

Pictures show damaged buildings following an Iranian missile attack on Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, on January 16, 2024. (Photo credit: SAFIN HAMID/AFP, Getty Images)

Syria, on the other hand, continues to be mired in a civil war that began in 2011, with the country divided geographically between factions that include the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian and Iranian ally, and a Kurdish-backed government. by the United States and many other countries.

But why are Syria and Iraq so important to Iran?

Iran and Iraq are linked geopolitically and religiously: the two countries share a 1,599-kilometer border and fought a brutal and long positional war in the 1980s that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. , which constitutes the historical precedent that defines all countries today. relation.

The existence of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq is also a source of tension with Iran, whose territory is home to a large Kurdish minority. The 10 million people also seek greater autonomy and are locked in conflict with Tehran.

On the other hand, both Iraq and Iran are Muslim countries, with the majority of the population belonging to Shia (more than 60% in Iraq and more than 90% in Iran). Iraq is a secular republic, but Iran is an organizational form. The 1979 Islamic Revolution produced The Islamic theocracy is considered the guarantor of the “Shia Crescent”, which stretches from Iran to Lebanon, through Syria and Iraq, and is located in the Sunni-dominated Middle East.

The war between Iraq and Iran took place from 1980 to 1988 when Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein, a rebel in a predominantly Shiite country. Nepalese leader.

In fact, most of Syria’s population is Sunni, but its President Assad and much of the country’s elite, allied with Iran, belong to the Alawite sect, which is related to Shia.

This rivalry between Sunnis and Shia partly explains why the Sunni Islamist movement ISIS has become Iran’s sworn enemy, and why Iran is interested in maintaining a presence in Syria, where the remnants of ISIS are located exist.

Syria also plays another geopolitical role for Iran: Its 83-kilometer border with Tehran’s other enemy, Israel, has been at the center of the situation because of the Gaza war, and it acts as a buffer state between the two countries. As a result, the Lebanese Hezbollah group, backed by Iran, has been operating along the Syrian-Israeli border for years, exacerbating tensions.

The case of Pakistan

A day after attacking Iraq and Syria, Iran turned its attention to Pakistan. Pakistan is a Muslim country with a Sunni majority (about 85%) but also a Shia minority that accounts for 10% to 15% of the population, something Iran and Pakistan have in common. The border is 959 kilometers long.

Tehran said it launched precision attacks on two strongholds of the Sunni group Jaish al-Adl, known in Iran as Jaish al-Dhulm, in the town of Koh-e-Sabz, about 50 kilometers from the border.

On January 17, 2024, several pedestrians walked along a street in Panjgur district of Balochistan province, Pakistan. (Photo credit: BANARAS KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Jaish al Adl operates on both sides of the border and is a group seeking independence for the Iranian province of Sistan and the Pakistani province of Balochistan. He has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Iran in recent years.

Regarding Tuesday’s attack, Tehran said it “struck only Iranian terrorists on Pakistani soil” and did not affect Pakistani nationals.

However, Pakistan reported the deaths of two girls, condemned the attack as a violation of its sovereignty and warned of possible reprisals.

There appears to be no clear link to Gaza, but the attack is part of Tehran’s growing assertiveness amid a widening regional conflict.

It can be seen that with multiple fronts open, the escalation of violence in the Middle East has not stopped since the Hamas terrorist attacks, catching not only Israel but the entire international community by surprise. Pandora’s box seems to have been opened. In an area always prone to conflict.

Reporting by Hamdi Alkhshali, Nechirvan Mando, Helen Regan, Oren Liebermann, Haley Britzky, Natasha Bertrand, Jennifer Hansler and Jonny Hallam.

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