06/28/2021 Iraq (International Christian Concern) – At the orders of President Joe Biden, the United States military has conducted airstrikes against Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq and Syria. These bombings, which targeted operational and weapons bases, were ordered as strategic deterrents against the militias after they recently used drones to attack US personnel and military facilities in Iraq. The Iranian-backed groups pledged retaliation for the attacks after acknowledging that four of their members had been killed in the airstrikes.
These retaliatory strikes come at a critical time for US-Iranian relations, which are already deeply strained. Just last week, Iran elected a new president, Ebrahim Raisi, who has already confirmed concerns that he will not seek cooperation with the United States. As exemplified in these most recent airstrikes, President Biden’s policy towards Iran is one of diplomacy in combination with strategic military action.
While the United States conducted similar airstrikes against Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria earlier this year, Biden has also expressed his desire to move past the Trump-era policy of punishing Iran through economic sanctions for its international transgressions. Further, Biden will likely reestablish the Iranian Nuclear Deal, which will seek to prevent the possibility of Iranian developing a nuclear weapon.
Iranian-backed militia groups have become a daunting, perpetual presence in Iraq and Syria. Though they played a pivotal role in the removal of ISIS from the Nineveh Plains, a region on the Iraqi-Syrian border, they have since taken advantage of the area’s instability to extort and control the region’s residents, many of whom are Christian. Most Christian communities were vacated as believers fled ISIS’s conquest of the region, and fears still run deep that those responsible remain present and hidden in the Nineveh Plains. Citing this possibility, Iranian militias levy tribute from Christian residents in return for their protection and limit their travel. Long-term, these groups pose a significant threat to Iraqi and Syrian Christians’ safety and ability to practice their faith freely.
US-Iranian relations will be a focal point of the Biden presidency, and it remains to be seen how these most recent airstrikes will affect diplomatic relations between the two countries. However President Biden chooses to address Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria, it is essential that, in doing so, he considers the rights and religious freedom of minority groups in the region.
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