US-Iran Escalation Timeline: March 2020 Update
Contributors: Katherine Lawlor and Brandon Wallace
This analysis is co-published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.
[Notice: The Institute for the Study of War and the Critical Threats Project frequently cite sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]
Iranian proxies in Iraq have sustained attacks since the killing of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in an attempt to provoke a US response that will lead to the expulsion of American forces from the country. Iranian proxies began a campaign of rocket attacks on US positions in Iraq in October 2019. These attacks are intended to goad the US into responses that will bring political pressure on Iraqi leaders to expel American forces. Iraqi proxies have conducted at least 14 attacks since early January, indicating that Soleimani’s killing did not cause a de-escalation. An Iranian proxy instead escalated on March 11 with the largest rocket attack since Soleimani’s death, causing two US casualties. The scale of this attack—like the December 27th attack that caused the first US casualty—indicated heightened effort to cause American casualties. Its timing indicates an attempt to incite a US response that will make the US presence politically untenable for Iraqi politicians days before the deadline to elect a new prime minister in Iraq. The US response on March 12 accidentally killed non-proxy Iraqi citizens, prompting Iraqi leaders—including Iraqi President Barham Salih—to *accuse the US of violating Iraqi sovereignty. The Iranian regime may also welcome heightened tensions with the US as an enemy other than its own ineptitude amid its failure to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.