US-Iran tensions

The U.S. assassination of Qassem Suleimani, the mastermind of Tehran’s foreign military operations, in Baghdad last week, suddenly made Iraq the front line in tensions between the United States and Iran.

Iraq has struggled to balance ties with both Washington and Tehran since the U.S. invasion, in 2003. “The United States is our ally. Iran is our neighbor,” Salih told me. The U.S. attack on Suleimani—which was carried out without informing the government in Baghdad—challenged Iraqi sovereignty and triggered unprecedented political fury at the United States within the country. On Sunday, the parliament of Iraq voted to require the government to “end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil and prevent the use of Iraqi airspace, soil and water for any reason” by foreign troops. The United States has more than five thousand troops in Iraq; it leads a multinational coalition that is still fighting isis and training the Iraqi military. The vote in the parliament, which has three hundred and twenty-eight seats, was 170–0. It was carried largely by Shiite lawmakers; many Sunnis and Kurds did not vote. The measure will not go into force until signed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, but Mahdi drafted its language.


Brief Timeline


US withdraws from Iran nuclear deal

Trump made good on an election campaign promise, announcing on May 8 that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA).



'Foreign terrorist organisation'

On April 8, Trump announced he was designating a powerful arm of the Iranian military, the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign "terrorist" organisation.

The designation imposed wide-ranging economic and travel sanctions on the IRGC that went into effect on April 15.

US sends aircraft carrier to the Middle East

On May 5, Trump's then-National Security Adviser John Bolton announced the US was sending an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East "in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings".

On May 12, the United Arab Emirates said four commercial ships off the coast of Fujairah, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs, "were subjected to sabotage operations".

Yemen's Houthi rebels, who were locked in a long-running war with a Saudi-UAE-led military coalition, launched drone attacks on Saudi Arabia on May 14, striking a major oil pipeline and taking it out of service

Two days later, Riyadh, a key US ally, blamed Iran for the attack.

On June 13, with Abe still in Iran, a Japanese tanker and a Norwegian one came under "attack" in the Gulf of Oman, according to the Norwegian maritime authority and the Japanese shipowner

On June 20, Iranian forces shot down a US military drone

Tehran exceeds uranium limit

On July 1, Iran exceeded the limit on the amount of enriched uranium in its stockpile set out in the nuclear deal


Iran unveils new missile defence system

On August 23, Rouhani inducted a locally built air-defence system into the country's missile defence network at an unveiling ceremony in Tehran

US contractor killed

On December 27, a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk killed a US contractor and wounded several US service members and Iraqi personnel.


US targets militia sites

Two days later - on December 29 - the US military carried out "defensive strikes" on sites in Iraq and Syria belonging to Kataib Hezbollah that Washington said were in retaliation for the killing of the US contractor


Protesters storm US embassy

On December 31, enraged members and supporters of pro-Iranian paramilitary groups in Iraq broke into the heavily fortified US embassy compound in Baghdad, smashing a main door and setting parts of its perimeter on fire.


US assassinates Soleimani

In a predawn air raid in at Iraq's Baghdad airport on January 3, the US struck and killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, or PMF.


Thousands mourn Soleimani during funeral

Tens of thousands of mourners clad in black filled the streets of Mashhad and Ahvaz on January 5 to pay their respects to Soleimani.



Supply worries are a major part of the problem. This is particularly true for India, as the Iranian crude came at a discount on price as well as lower cost of shipping, insurance and with a longer credit period.

There may still be a small window available for getting crude as part of rupee trade with Iran, but there is no guarantee that such supplies could escape the prying eyes of US surveillance.