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US Embassy Attacked in Iraq by Iranian Trained Guards: Shades of Hostage Crisis of 1979

Updated on January 4, 2020
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A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies and Law. He is qualified to write on this subject.


Iran and the USA have had a tortuous relationship. Right up to 1978, Iran was ruled by the Shah Reza Pahlevi. Under him, Iran was a close ally of America. It was the pivot around which American policy moved in the Middle East. Iran was a member of the various military pacts floated by General Eisenhower to contain Russia. The Shah also was enamored of the American way of life and wished to impose the same in Iran. Unfortunately for him, Iran was a conservative Shia Muslim country and the people harbored a deep resentment against the USA. In the minds of the people, the Shah and the United States of America was the 'Great Satan'

The Iranian people resented the fact that the US and British intelligence agencies orchestrate a coup to oust Iran's democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq. The secular leader had sought to nationalize Iran's oil industry.

On 16 January 1978 following months of demonstrations and strikes against his rule by secular and religious opponents the Shah fled Iran

Two weeks later, Islamic religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile. and following a referendum, the Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed on 1 April.

Hostage Crisis

The Americans lost face in Iran mainly because they supported a tyrant and what the people felt was a un-Islamic leader. In retaliation, the US embassy in Tehran was seized by protesters in November 1979 and American hostages were held inside for 444 days. The present attack on the embassy has shades of the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran nearly three decades back.

Present Attack -Genesis.

Iraq was governed by a Sunni leader. He was Saddam Hussein who for all practical purposes was a dictator but had shades of secularism. He was the only Mulsim leader who supported India on Kashmir. He also kept radical Muslim outfits like Al Qaeda in check and hanged scores of their fighters.

In a grave misjudgment, President Bush launched an invasion of Iraq that resulted in the overthrow of Saddam and led to his hanging. This decision must rank as the first nail in the American coffin for world dominance. It completely destabilized Iraq and the net result is a Shia dominated government that has close ties to Iran. America maintains an embassy and troops but the clout is clearly with Shia dominated allies of Iran. The result of American misadventure can be seen that not one American can walk the streets of Baghdad alone and unescorted.

Present Crisis.

The fuse was being lit with the Iranians sending in troops and a General to coordinate opposition to the USA. Iraq was thus becoming a playground for a proxy war between Iran and America. The Americans have to thank Bush for it. Iranian backed militia have once again proved that Iran will not deviate from its path of being the dominant power in Iraq and the Middle East. It also shows belligerence and a daredevil attitude towards the United States. The American embassy in Baghdad is located in the green zone which is a heavily fortified area. This area is out of bounds to all except authorized personnel. Despite this, a horde of Iranian backed demonstrators surrounded the embassy. More important they breached the Green Zone. Chanting slogans they surrounded the embassy in the face of an ineffectual police response. They pressed on despite many of their kin being shot dead by Iraqi security forces. The US had to respond and The New York Times has reported that the demonstrators have now withdrawn after a show of force by the US Air Force.

American response

The siege of the American embassy in Baghdad is a watershed in Middle East politics. President Trump seems to be reacting to the politics of Obama and Bush that has tied one hand of America behind its back. The Americans have responded by sending hundreds of troops to the region. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who a few months back had stated that all options were on the table against Iran has delayed his trip to Ukraine and other Central Asian republics given the tense situation in Iraq. The fact is the option has been discussed but nothing concrete has been done. The one option that can have a deterrent effect-the military option is like lighting a tinder box that could well blow America away as both China and Russia are with the Tehran regime. USA Today has reported that Defence Secretary Mark Esper has said that 750 US troops are being moved to the region. Hundreds of paratroopers are getting ready to fly to the Middle East in C-17 planes. As a soldier, this is too puny a force to affect the region. The numbers are likely to be raised to 3500- one division The basic Principle of War of concentration of force and superiority in numbers is not followed.

The demonstrators outside the embassy have started to disperse. This was after at least two dozen Iran-backed fighters were killed by US airstrikes. It appears the leaders of the militia ordered the fighters to leave the area to avoid more casualties.

Their leaders declared victory as they had made a point in the operation to expel US troops from Iraq.

Tehran 1979
Tehran 1979

Last word

The incident leaves a bad taste in the mouth. One is reminded of the humiliation of the USA almost three decades back. The demonstrators have left but the embassy will bear the scars of this invasion for a long time to come. There is some truth that the Americans lack the political will to take down their enemies. An example is Pakistan. This nation is responsible for the deaths of almost 2500 US military personnel in Afghanistan and yet the Americans are still mollycoddling the regime. They have been allowed to go nuclear and nothing much is done about the Pak army support to Al Qaeda. Similarly in Iraq removing Saddam was a terrible blunder. I wonder why at that time Iran was not sorted out in place of Iraq. We can see these blunders in hindsight and realize that if kings, soldiers, and military leaders did not make blunders then the great empires would not have faded away. Probably America also is reaching that stage


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