Yesterday, 11 Iranian soldiers crossed the Iraqi border and raised the Iranian flag over a disputed oil well.
The Iraqi government, after first denying the incident, promised that it will seek a diplomatic solution to the problem. The Iranians have rejected Iraq's demands for it to withdraw, denying any problem at all because the oil well "belongs to Iran." The U.S. military called the incursion a "sovereignty issue" and noted that such incidents are frequent along the Iraq-Iran border.
Well, seeing how no one else seems all that worried, I'll cautiously sound the alarm for them. This is a small, non-violent incident. But it's a small, non-violent incident that can easily become a not-so-small, violent one.
First of all, Iraq and Iran have never gotten over the Iran-Iraq War that killed over a million people in eight years of brutal fighting and civilian bombing. Admittedly, since the fall of Saddam and the empowerment of the Shia, the Iraq government has become much more friendly with Iran. However, Iraq is also experiencing a resurgence of nationalism. An Iranian incursion into their land, given all their strained history and all the other problems Iraqis currently face from external meddling, won't be received well by most Iraqis.
According to Shiite politician Ayad Jamal Aldin, "The world need [sic] to know that unless strong action is taken against Tehran, Iraq will simply become another Iranian colony which will threaten stability throughout the middle east." Clearly, Iraqis have not endured nearly 7 years of violence to give up their sovereignty to the Iranians.
Second, the Iranian regime is looking for a distraction - any distraction - from its internal upheaval. Tehran is especially nervous now that the holy months of Muharram and Safar have begun. As Mehdi Khalaji explains, the opposition will be able to use the annual religious ceremonies to protest the regime, but the government will be given the impossible dilemma of either cracking down on religious displays or allowing two months of unrestrained protest.
As such, the government is looking for any national cause that could tie to the Iranian people together - whether that be confrontation with the U.S., Israel, or Iraq is immaterial, so long as there's confrontation. Keep in mind here that Ayatollah Khomeini solidified his power during the Iran-Iraq War, using it as an excuse to imprison and assassinate thousands of his political enemies.
Third and most importantly, it only takes one itchy trigger-finger, one accidental misfire, one irresponsible private, to transform an "incursion" into an "invasion." Remember that the American Revolution did not begin with a decision to go to war, but by an unknown militiaman who fired the "shot heard 'round the world" in the impromptu Battles of Lexington and Concord.
So while this small incident will likely blow over, I'll be crossing my fingers until it does.