Mon | Jan 18, 2021

Iran’s allies on high alert in Trump’s final weeks in office

Published:Friday | November 20, 2020 | 1:37 PM
In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, General Esmail Ghaani, newly appointed commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, weeps while praying over the coffin of the force's previous head General Qassem Soleimani at the Tehran University campus in Tehran, Iran, Monday, January 6, 2020. On Friday, November 20, two Iraqi officials say Iran has instructed allies in the Middle East to be on high alert and avoid provoking tensions with the US that could give an outgoing Trump Administration cause to launch attacks in his final weeks in office. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran has instructed allies across the Middle East to be on high alert and avoid provoking tensions with the US that could give an outgoing Trump administration cause to launch attacks in the US president’s final weeks in office, Iraqi officials have said.

The request — delivered by a senior Iranian general to allies in Baghdad this week — reflects the growing regional anxiety over President Donald Trump’s unpredictable behaviour and the uncertainty in the chaotic transition period until President-elect Joe Biden takes over in two months.

Iran’s allies have collectively welcomed Trump’s election defeat. Under his presidency, tensions with Iran escalated, reaching fever pitch at the beginning of the year with the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassim Soleimani, at the Baghdad airport.

Iran launched a ballistic missile attack in response to the fatal drone strike, targeting US soldiers in Iraq and wounding dozens.

Trump also unilaterally withdrew America in 2018 from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, meant to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, and re-imposed punishing sanctions on Iran, crippling its economy.

Iran has since abandoned all limits on its uranium enrichment program, even as the deal’s other international partners have tried unsuccessfully to salvage it.

The incoming Biden administration has stated plans to rejoin or renegotiate the 2015 nuclear accord.

But there is growing concern over what Trump, who is refusing to concede the election, might do in the last days of his presidency — including a potential strike on America’s enemies abroad.

On Thursday, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader warned in an interview with The Associated Press that any American attack on Iran could set off a “full-fledged war” in the region.

“We don’t welcome war. We are not after starting a war,” said Hossein Dehghan, who served in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard before becoming a defence minister under President Hassan Rouhani.

The concern does not appear to be rooted in anything concrete — Trump has, in fact, ordered a drawdown in US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to be completed by mid-January — but rather in general nervousness about the unpredictability of Trump’s actions.

His firing of Defence Secretary Mark Esper two days after the election triggered a flurry of speculation about whether it was related to a broader plan to strike abroad.

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