There is a lot of misinformation floating around this evening about the siege on the U.S. embassy and as to whether or not a consulate or embassy has sovereign authority and jurisdiction. The property is not a separate territory or foreign soil based on the diplomatic provisions laid out in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (U.N., Treat Series, vol. 500, p. 95). In 1983, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the case of McKeel vs. Islamic Republic of Iran and concluded that the embassy in Tehran was not a territory of the United States or subject to its jurisdiction. Credit goes to Stewart Sharma for pointing out the facts. Stewart is an immigration lawyer based in Canada.
“On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants seized the diplomatic and military personnel attached to the United States Embassy in Tehran. The Americans were held hostage in violation of international law for over fourteen months… The issue before us is whether the embassy in Tehran is ‘territory… subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.’ Appellants contend that it is. Territory, of course, is a primary basis for jurisdiction, i.e., a state may prescribe and enforce a rule of law for conduct occurring in territory under the state’s sovereignty… A United States embassy, however, remains the territory of the receiving state, and does not constitute territory of the United States… Thus, United States embassies are not within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
For a recap of the deterioration in diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran since Apr. 2015, articles and a Twitter thread can be found at “Oil Supertankers Attacked by Iranian Proxies in the Strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait,” “A Sinking Feeling About Nuclear Persia,” “A Ghawar Light Sweet Crude Oil Price Gusher is Possible,” and “A New Revolution Brewing as Iranians Burn Down the Banks.”
Recent rocket attacks have targeted U.S. facilities in the Middle East, Iraq, and the Green Zone in Baghdad. Iranian-backed militias and their supporters are responsible for the attacks. A rocket attack last Friday near Kirkuk in northern Iraq killed a U.S. defense contractor and wounded four U.S. troops and two Iraqi Security Force members. The U.S. responded by conducting five military strikes against the Iranian-backed terrorist group Kaitaib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria. The siege on the U.S. embassy in the Green Zone is reported to be in response to those U.S. strikes. Secretary Pompeo appeared on mainstream news outlets this evening and discussed today’s attack on the embassy:
Iraqi security forces stood by and did nothing as hundreds of Iraqi Shiite militia supporters and other factions gained entry to the compound, threw Molotov cocktails on lawns, burned down a checkpoint station, and set the main reception area ablaze. They waved and hung Hezbollah and militia flags and chanted pro-Iranian slogans such as “Death to America” and “Allahu Akbar, America is the Big Satan.”
This event is reminiscent of the Iranian revolutionaries who held U.S. diplomats hostage in Tehran 40 years ago. Diplomats and staffers are huddled in a fortified safe room within the embassy and it appears that the situation may go on for an indefinite period. The attackers have set up tents outside the compound and have said that they will not leave until all U.S. diplomats and troops pull out of Iraq. The compound is on 104 acres and is the largest and most expensive in the world. The following video from outside the embassy is courtesy of Steven Nabil.
Following the consulate attack in Benghazi on Sep. 11, 2012, a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force formed to address potential situations in the future. A team of approximately 100 Marines departed Kuwait and arrived at the embassy within a few hours to fortify security and protect diplomats and staffers.
Defense Secretary Esper announced that 750 paratroopers and an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division are deploying immediately to the Middle East. Officials report that 4,000 troops may be deployed over the next several days.
The POTUS is very clear about his intentions going forward:
Trump says Iran responsible for attack on the US embassy in Iraq – “‘Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will,’ the president wrote on Twitter. ‘Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq… In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!’” – CNBC, Dec. 31
“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!” – POTUS
Here is a summary of the situation from The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) that was published before the embassy was attacked. The Dec. 11 report is available in full at CSIS.
- Iran-backed militias within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have acquired short-range ballistic missiles from Tehran, supplementing their existing arsenal of unguided rockets.
- These militias’ small, harassing rocket attacks targeting U.S. facilities in Iraq have already disrupted American diplomatic and business activities in the country.
- Israeli airstrikes on PMF missile depots have killed and injured dozens of Iraqis, straining relations among the United States, Iraq, and Israel.
- Further Iranian missile proliferation in Iraq could increase the number of potential rocket launch sites, impede the attribution of Iranian missile attacks, and locate launch sites closer to U.S. and allied forces in the region.
“In discussions of Iran’s regional missile proliferation, Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels tend to dominate the conversation. This focus is for good reason: Hezbollah today possesses an estimated 130,000 rockets and short-range missiles, and the Houthis have fired over 250 projectiles into Saudi Arabia since 2015.1 Yet Iran’s strategy of arming proxies with rockets to harass, distract, and deter its regional adversaries has expanded to include factions of a third group. Collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, these militias have taken on increasing importance.
The PMF is a semi-autonomous umbrella group composed of an estimated 75,000-145,000 fighters, split among 50-plus militias. It was formally established in 2014 to help Iraq’s armed forces defeat ISIS. Each group varies in its politics and interests, with only some loyal to Tehran. Those groups and PMF leaders that maintain strong ties to Tehran have steadily risen in size and stature. This report designates these factions of the PMF as “Iran-backed Groups,” or “IBGs,” to focus the scope of its analysis.”
Further reading on the situation developing in Iran and Iraq is available at The Atlantic Council, “US strikes in Iraq and Syria: Managing the escalation.”
The financial markets could be in store for some volatility as we move into 2020 and the embassy situation devolves into a serious escalation due to the geopolitical risks it would trigger.
UPDATE Jan 2, 2020: Remember this guy?… the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force (IRGC), Qassem Soleimani.
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