Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Iranian Eye on Jordan: Tower 22 Outside the Rules of Engagement

The attack on Tower 22 in Jordan marked a deviation from implicit arrangements and took the situation in a different direction.

Tower 22
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei makes a speech on the general elections at the Imam Khomeini Husainiyya in Tehran, on February 18, 2024. Iranian Leader Press Office / Hand / ANADOLU / Anadolu via AFP

Hussein Ali al-Zoubi

The US military installation known as Tower 22 gained significant attention following a drone attack by the Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah militia, which is backed by Iran. Three American soldiers were killed, and several others were injured in the attack.

Tower 22 is situated within Jordanian territory, close to the Syrian border. The incident marks the first time militias have targeted an American base in Jordan.

According to official statements from Washington, the US response targeted facilities of the Revolutionary Guard and its associated militias in Syria and Iraq. The United States’ retaliatory strike was not limited to the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor but extended across the Syrian border into the Iraqi city of al-Qaim. The action provoked disapproval from the government in Baghdad, which maintains a positive relationship with Washington.

Indeed, the targeting of the American base in Jordan marks an unprecedented development in the intricate relationship between the United States and Iran. It is crucial to delve into the dynamics between the militias and the Iraqi government, as well as the connection between these militias and Iran, to understand this complex situation.

Before examining the targeting of the Tower 22 base, it is essential to understand these relationships and address the question of why the base has become a focal point now, particularly in light of the presence of American bases in Iraq and Syria.

Militias and the Iraqi Government

Various armed groups emerged in Iraq following the collapse of the Iraqi army in 2003, after the US invaded the country and Washington decided to disband its army. These groups, led by influential religious figures, assumed control of the Iraqi army’s weaponry. The Badr Organization was one of the most notable entities during this period. Originating as a military force in Iran, the Badr Organization comprised individuals opposed to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It enlisted soldiers who had sought refuge in Iran and those who had been captured fighting alongside the Iranian army during the Iran-Iraq War.

Post-2003, these forces entered Iraq and evolved into a de facto power before consolidating their position as both a military and political force within the country. Another prominent force that emerged was the Mahdi Army, established following the US invasion and led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Numerous factions splintered off from the Mahdi Army, further dividing into additional factions over time.

To secure the necessary funding, these forces seized control of key elements of the state apparatus and established numerous companies that are often accused of engaging in corrupt practices.

They, too, wielded influence over various government departments, appointing individuals sympathetic to their cause within state institutions to further their interests. Furthermore, the factions took part in smuggling operations, with many involved in illicit oil trading activities and exerting control over the nation’s border crossings.

The armed factions effectively governed Iraq by placing their members in parliament and securing positions within ministries and public administrations. Unofficially, the factions were also active beyond Iraq’s borders, as demonstrated by their involvement in the conflict in Syria, where many fought alongside Bashar al-Assad’s regime during the Syrian crisis.

Detached Factions and State Apparatus


Tower 22
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani chairs a meeting with top-ranking officials of the Iraqi armed forces and of the US-led coalition during the first round of talks on the future of American and other foreign troops in the country, in Baghdad on January 27, 2024. Hadi Mizban / POOL / AFP

Al-Kubaisi asserts that the fundamental issue in Iraq stems from the government’s failure to separate the militias from its apparatus. “These groups, financed by public funds and enjoying political backing, act like resistance movements and carry out attacks against US targets. However, when the United States retaliates, it is portrayed as an attack on Iraqi state forces,” he adds.

The thinker and political observer Ghaleb Shahbandar echoes similar sentiments. He references Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Organization, affirming allegiance to Tehran. Shahbandar points out, “Al-Amiri openly stated in a public speech that they adhere to the doctrine of guardianship of the jurist and derive their directives from the jurist.

Additionally, the minister of higher education said they regard the guardianship of the jurist as their backbone. This indicates that their loyalty is primarily doctrinal rather than national in nature.”

In response to those who argue that the PMF are distinct from other factions, Shahbandar remarked, “I do not make a distinction between the PMF and the factions. However, each has its own stance regarding the guardianship of the jurist. As for claims that the PMF are part of the state, such assertions hold little value in a country like Iraq, where we live in a ‘non-state.'”

This involvement places Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani in a difficult position. On one hand, he aims to engage with other countries, including the United States, based on principles of state diplomacy. However, he cannot rein in factions that operate outside the state’s boundaries.

In this context, al-Kubaisi asserts that the issue lies not with Prime Minister al-Sudani but with the Iraqi state itself. He explains, “There exists political backing from factions that wield significant influence over state decision-making. Al-Sudani was selected as a compromise candidate, and he lacks any substantial power within Parliament. The Coordination Framework, which comprises Shiite political forces – excluding the Sadrist movement – holds the majority in Parliament and is dominated by groups with strong ties to Iran.

Consequently, al-Sudani is unlikely to diverge from these arrangements… unless he considers resigning, which could exert pressure. Therefore, the problem facing al-Sudani would not be directly with the factions but rather with Iran.”

On the contrary, individuals affiliated with these factions claim they are independent of Iran. They assert that these factions seek what they term “an end to the US occupation.”

However, Essam Hussein, a political researcher close to the Sadrist movement, casts doubt on this claim. He points out that Iran and the factions have interests that align with the continuation of the US presence. Hussein highlights, “It was parties within the Coordination Framework that initially requested the international coalition’s assistance in 2014 during the Islamic State crisis.”

He also suggests that the targeting of American bases, Kurdistan and even Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s residence with drones coincided with al-Kadhimi’s efforts to curb the influence of these factions. Hussein adds, “Prime Minister al-Sudani contemplating resignation is merely an attempt to improve the government’s image.

Additionally, Iran understands that the international coalition’s withdrawal would lead to economic sanctions on Iraq, which is economically significant for Iran as its largest trading partner.

According to al-Kubaisi, the confrontation between Iran and the United States revolves around Iran’s regional ambitions and its perception of the US as a threat to those ambitions.

He adds, “However, Iran recognises that any US withdrawal from Iraq would likely result in economic sanctions on Iraq, which would have repercussions for Iran. As a result, Tehran aims to compel Washington into accepting a partnership in Iraq, a proposition that the US intermittently entertains but sometimes rejects.

This dynamic underscores the fundamental challenge in the relationship between the two countries. Despite tensions, implicit rules of engagement are established between Iran and the United States, as the latter aims to avoid direct confrontation with Tehran.”

Jordan and Tower 22

Tower 22
US President Joe Biden and US First Lady Jill Biden (not seen) participate in a dignified transfer of the three soldiers killed in a drone attack in Jordan by Iran-backed militants at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, United States on February 2, 2024. Kyle Mazza/ Anadolu via AFP.

Despite 185 attacks launched on American bases in Syria and Iraq since the 7 October 2023 attack of Hamas and the Israeli war on Gaza, no soldiers sustained injuries, and the United States did not retaliate in response to these incidents.

However, the situation took a different turn when Tower 22, situated within Jordanian territory, was targeted. This attack marked a deviation from implicit arrangements.

Hudhaifa al-Mashhadani, a researcher specialising in Iraqi affairs, told Fanack, “Iran aims to expand its influence in the Mashriq by gaining control over additional territories, alongside its existing presence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. An ironic development observed after 7 October was the PMF’s factions urging their supporters to gather at the Jordanian-Iraqi border. These factions advocated for the opening of borders to allow the PMF to reach Palestine and engage in combat against Israel.

However, this seems illogical considering the significant distance between these gatherings and the borders of Palestine, which are more than a thousand kilometres away. It’s noteworthy that these same factions are already positioned in southern Syria, merely separated from Israeli forces by a few hundred metres.

Also, Hezbollah maintains a direct presence in Lebanon and upholds rules of engagement with Israel. Thus, the argument is invalid.”

Al-Mashhadani emphasises Iran’s strategy of creating chaos and capitalising on it to advance its interests. He points to smuggling operations, initially involving Captagon and other drugs, conducted by Iran-affiliated groups across the Syrian border towards Jordan.

Over time, these operations evolved into weapons smuggling, as officially declared by Jordan. Thus, the targeting of the Tower 22 base can be understood within this context.

The events unfold against the backdrop of the approaching US presidential elections. Historically, during such times, candidates vying for office tend to adopt a more confrontational stance towards Iran, a trend observed since the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

Amid expectations of a renewed rivalry between current US President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, Iran persists in bolstering its influence to complicate any potential measures by future US administrations that could pose a threat to its regime, nuclear programme or regional presence.

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