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On August 20, 2023, the online news portal "Asas Media," which opposes Lebanese Hizbullah, published an article titled "The Kahale Truck Carried American Weapons." The piece claimed that the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) smuggled weapons to Hizbullah and that the incident may cause the U.S. to shut down the Iraq-Syria border. It argued that the threat posed by Iran-backed factions to U.S. interests is outside security agreements between Baghdad and Washington, and that the growing war of influence in Syria between the U.S. and Russia endangers Iran's ability to control the strategic Tehran-Beirut corridor and its access to the Mediterranean Sea.
Earlier this month, Lebanese media reported that an arms truck belonging to Hizbullah was involved in an accident on the road from Beqaa to Beirut on the evening of August 9. Reports said that the incident led to an immediate armed response from locals, who clashed with the armed men assigned with protecting the shipment and the truck, resulting in the death of a Hizbullah affiliate and a local.
In reaction to the incident, on August 12 Hizbullah's Media Relations Office released a statement claiming that following the accident, armed men belonging to a "local militia" opened fire at the Hizbullah operatives, who fired back. It said that a Lebanese Army unit arrived on site and prevented the "assailants" from drawing near the arms-loaded truck.
Iraqi PMU Smuggled Weapons To Hizbullah
The article opened by citing Iraqi sources as saying that the weapons transported aboard the Hizbullah truck originated from the Iraqi armed forces' warehouses and included U.S.-made weapons, and that parties affiliated with the PMU were smuggling these weapons to Lebanese Hizbullah.
Speculating, the article said the incident "may result in a U.S. move to activate the plan to shut down the border between Iraq and Syria and cut the lines of arms transfer from Iran and Iraq towards Syria and Lebanon," noting that the incident coincided with "the remarkable movement" by U.S. forces in the Gulf and the Red seas, the dispatch of about 3,000 soldiers, aircraft carriers, and other military units, as well as ground movements between U.S. bases in Iraq.
Attacks and Threats By Iran-Backed Factions On U.S. Interests Occur Outside U.S.-Iraqi Government Understanding
The U.S. military movements in Iraq and the region generated significant debate in Iraq regarding their purpose. According to the article, they coincided with the security meeting held in Washington between an Iraqi military and security delegation with U.S. counterparts to discuss the means to boost bilateral cooperation and activate the strategic framework agreement signed in 2008.
Additionally, the article stressed that the U.S. military movements took place following the U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap deal, which will allow Iran to have direct access to its frozen financial assets in Iraqi, Japanese, and South Korean banks.
Nonetheless, the border area between Syria and Iraq continues to see attacks by Shi'ite factions against U.S. bases in Syria's Al-Omar and Koniko gas and oil fields, which "most likely occur outside the U.S.-Iraqi understandings" and also are "not consistent with the recent agreement between Washington and Tehran." The article said.
Additionally, it contended that one of the most important outputs of the strategic dialogue between Washington and Baghdad is that the U.S. set the "operational framework" for its forces' activities in Iraq, describing it as an advisory role and as assisting in the war on terror. It also noted that such a framework not only aligns with prior agreements with Iraqi governments in the past, but also is "not far from the consent [reached] by the Iranian regime's leadership after the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani and [in] the Iraqi parliament law passed a few days after the assassination, which obligated the Iraqi government to work to remove U.S. forces from Iraq."
"U.S. Military Mobilization Does Not Target Iraq"
Sources from within the Iraqi delegation that visited Washington told the outlet that the U.S. mobilization in the region does not target Iraq, but said they also demanded that the U.S. look at the Iraqi arena separately from the Syrian arena. Iraqi officials reportedly claimed that the 7,000 elements affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region must not include Iraq, where the number "dropped to less than 1,000 affiliates dispersed across [the country] who do not pose a real threat to security stability in Iraq."
"What is happening in Iraq has nothing to do with the U.S. military reinforcement in the region, given that the main goal of these forces, according to U.S. statements, falls within the framework of enhancing the security of waterways and preventing Iranian forces from attacking oil tankers in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz." The sources added.
Any U.S.-Iran Conflict In The Future Will Take Place In Syria's Eastern Region, Without Lebanese Hizbullah Involvement
According to the article, the escalation carried out by the Iran-backed "resistance" factions, and the escalation in the language of threats made against U.S. forces are the result of an internal Iraqi conflict and the relationship of these factions with the Iraqi government, following accusations that the government continues to evade budget allocations and financial obligations towards the PMU.
It went on to argue that any future confrontation or escalation between the U.S. and Iran will not take place in Iraq, but rather in Syrian territory, noting that the conflict revolves around the future of Syria, its regime, and its control over all of its territory.
"The area of tension between both parties is limited to eastern Syria, particularly the Deir Al-Zor region, extending to the Iraqi border," an area which, the article claimed, "is exclusive to the Iranian forces, some Syrian factions, and the Syrian army."
The daily added that Lebanese Hizbullah is kept out of the conflict zone in eastern Syria, as its role "has been limited to the Aleppo region and its environs."
Iran Fears Growing U.S., Russian Influence In Syria May Diminish Its Ability To Control "Strategic Corridor"
Iran's focus on the Syrian-Iraqi border strip is part of the framework "to establish the rules of engagement with the U.S. forces," and the interests of each party, considering the repercussion of the situation in Ukraine on the Syrian arena, the article said.
It further argued that proactive U.S. move aims to secure its presence in Syria and preempt any Russian move in Syria should Russia's "situation in Ukraine improve." Such a scenario, the article contended, increases the fears of the Iran-led axis about the repercussions of a U.S.-Russia confrontation on the Iranian presence, influence, and ability to control this vital strategic corridor, which represents "a major artery that links Tehran to Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast."