Military escalation between the US and Iran: 4 key points

30 June, 2021

The week kicked off with US bombing raids on pro-Iranian militia bases in Iraq. According to the US it was a defensive attack aimed at containing the increasingly sophisticated drone attacks on its bases and interests in Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan. In other words, the message was directed at Iran, not toward the Iraqi state. The answer came tonight: the US forces in Syria were bombed by militias. The Americans apparently responded immediately. The military escalation is undeniable. But why is it erupting now – is it self-contained or could it end in a new generalized war in the region?

Table of Contents

  1. Who are the Iraqi militias
  2. Why is the US now initiating a military escalation
  3. Why did the “Hezbollazis” win the Iranian elections?
  4. What can stop the military escalation

Who are the Iraqi militias

PMU militias, under the flag of Caliph Ali, are on their way to fight against the Islamic State during the September 2017 war surge
PMU militias, under the flag of Caliph Ali, are on their way to fight against the Islamic State during the September 2017 war surge

The so-called Iraqi Shiite militias are not really militias but private professional armies representing the interests of various Shiite clerics and petty bourgeois groups in central and southern Iraq. Most of the Shiite militias are integrated within the PMU, Popular Mobilization Units, a body created by the Iraqi state during the war against the Islamic State to provide cover and at the same time try to control minimally within an institutional framework the armed power of the various factions of the Shiite bourgeoisie.

But the PMUs do not form a politically coherent body. Not all of them are pro-Iranian – there are pro-US ones and there are those who switch allegiances depending on the conjuncture – nor do those obeying Tehran necessarily follow its indications in domestic politics. In fact, in recent weeks the PMUs have raised tension against the Iraqi government in defiance of Iranian advice.

But it is true that Iran finances quite a few of them and uses military dependence in order to try to align them according to its interests in Iraq. Among those closest to Tehran it has also distributed heavy weaponry, missiles of different ranges and drones. Quid pro quo, these militias have attacked Saudi structures and US military positions under Iranian direction.

Why is the US now initiating a military escalation

Ebrahim Raissi
Ebrahim Raissi

The winner, Raisi, represents the judicial heartland of the state, but above all the faction of the state bourgeoisie and clerics most clearly aligned with Ayatollah Khamenei, which markedly reduces the field of possible bargaining with the US.

Generally in the European and US media the factions of the Iranian bourgeoisie are reduced into two main currents: the conservatives – who would be the reactionary and bellicose ones – and the progressives – represented as modernizers and open to dialogue. Bad news: all factions are reactionary and infamous in equal measure, but neither are there only two factions nor do the existing factions represent the clerical right vs reformist progressivism dichotomy as is commonly claimed.

The so-called reformistsare far from representing a homogeneous camp. They gather together the most bourgeois sectors of the religious apparatus – among whom corruption cases bloom in an eternal springtime -, the managerial bourgeoisie of private enterprise, and the more prosperous commercial and professional petty bourgeoisie.

The conservatives, for their part, are not exactly a coherent group either, and in fact the tensions between factions within this camp are becoming increasingly explicit as the time for Khamenei’s succession approaches. This current within the state organizes on the one hand the more typically traditionalist sectors such as judges and village clerics, official unions and provincial petty bourgeoisie. On the other, the Hezbollahist sector linked to the Guardians of the Revolution, the large public industries and the old Khomeinist guard, with Khamenei at its head.

The use of Hezbollah as an adjective and not just a title is because Khamenei and his followers see Hezbollah as a line of thought and an umbrella for groups and factions inside and outside Iran that share the same belief in “Velaya”, [clerical] guardianship as a concept.

Thus, the Hezbollahis in Lebanon and those in Iran, along with those in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and wherever there is an organic extension of the velayat-e faqih doctrine, despite cultural differences, could be considered members of the transnational nation of Hezbollah, or Ummat Hezbollah, which today is led by Khamenei and which after his death will be led by a successor who must follow in his footsteps.

Al Monitor

The US fears this trend establishing itself as a government. It wants to dissuade it from increasing funding for Shiite militias in the region and trying to coordinate them into a single imperialist strategy. That’s why it is accelerating the escalation of war now…to prevent it from growing before it becomes uncontrollable.

Why did the “Hezbollazis” win the Iranian elections?

Refinery workers on strike this week
Refinery workers on strike this week

The Hezbollah faction is the most aggressively imperialist, but in the regime’s discourse it represents the last vestige of Khomeini’s moldy Islamic Socialism ideology of the ’79 revolution.

The Iranian working class has been struggling intensely for nearly four years. In December 2017 there was a real outbreak of class struggle. A few months later the government had to step on the brake in its imperialist strategy in the face of a new upsurge. In November 2018 the strike movement revived with much more powerful forms of self-organization. And last August the refineries again took the lead extending the struggles across 12 provinces.

And again, during the last few months the discontent and the growing drip of scattered strikes began to take shape and spread. A week ago we got news that as of June 19 a new mass movement has broken out. A strike broke out at the Abadan refinery, others at refineries in the north and Isfahan, also a power plant in Ahvaz and other plants. Two days later the wildcat strike – that is, outside and against the unions, had spread to 22 refineries. The news collected in our Telegram strike channel on Monday already spoke of 60 companies. And just last Tuesday new refineries, factories, and companies went on strike.

Khamenei said in a speech last May, as strikes were being lavished on the workers, that the Iranian bourgeoisie and state needed to tighten their grip on the workers and that this required a government armed with the rhetoric of Islamic socialism like those of the first years after the revolution.

If such a government comes to power, the problems will be solved in a reasonable time… Today, the country has much better conditions in terms of cultivating a loyal, revolutionary, professional and secure workforce than in the first decade of the revolution

Ayatollah Khamenei

What can stop the military escalation

Workers leave work to join the strike assembly at a refinery this week
Workers leave work to join the strike assembly at a refinery this week

Dialogues and agreements can at best shift alliances and buy time before collapsing, but they don’t change the material conditions that fuel the conflict.

USA, Iran, Turkey, Russia… can accelerate or tactically slow down the military escalation at a given moment to avoid further damage. But they will not stop because the interests of their respective national capitals are contradictory, they need to impose themselves on their rivals to get out of the stranglehold imposed on them by the global crisis.

The only force capable of forcing a real de-escalation in the imperialist conflict in the Middle East is the struggle of the workers, the only subject feared and antagonistic to all the competing states and capitals. It is no utopia: in the Middle East in general and in Iran in particular, the relationship between struggles and the halting of the escalation of war is verified again and again.

As long as the Iranian workers are not framed by any project for national capital, by any faction of the bourgeoisie, however socialist it may call itself, and keep fighting under their own banners for universal aims, the Iranian state and capital can only continue to play their imperialist strategy through proxy organizations, without being able to organize a general mobilization of their own society for war. They would put the state itself in danger of a working class uprising.

The cost of doing anything other than class struggle was already seen during the Arab Spring in Syria: 400,000 dead and nearly 14 million refugees. The enemy is always in one’s own country and getting carried away by any of its banners – however democratic, socialist or solidarity-based they may say they are – only ends in slaughter.