Iran calls on Iraqi militias to attack US, as Pentagon asserts right to self-defense
WASHINGTON, DC (Kurdistan 24) – On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Hossein Taeb, intelligence chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), visited Baghdad last week and “urged Iraqi Shiite militias to step up their attacks on US targets ”in retaliation for US airstrikes against militias on June 27 along the Syrian-Iraqi border.
Read more: US launches limited airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria
These rather limited-in-scope US airstrikes were undertaken in immediate response to an attempted drone attack on Baghdad the previous week and a drone attack on the outskirts of Erbil province on June 26.
Read more: Drone attack targets outskirts of Erbil province
These two attacks followed a series of drone strikes by Iranian-backed militias: an April 14 attack on a CIA hangar at Erbil International Airport; a May 8 attack on Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, western Iraq; and a May 11 strike on a second installation in the Kurdistan region: Harir airfield, north of Erbil, which houses the JSOC, the US special operations command.
Read more: Pro-Iran militias using “more sophisticated weapons” against US forces in Iraq
A Lebanese American who worked as a translator for the US special forces and who was based in Erbil was recently sentenced by a US court to 23 years in prison for spying for the benefit of Lebanese Hezbollah. She probably provided the coordinates that enabled Iranian-backed militias to target the two sensitive US military sites in the Kurdistan region.
According to the Reuters report, Taeb “advised the Iraqis not to go too far” by attacking the United States “to avoid a great escalation.”
Asked about the story later on Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby affirmed President Joe Biden’s “strong commitment to protecting the safety and security of our personnel in Iraq.”
“You’ve seen us act in the past in this regard, and we still retain the right of self-defense,” Kirby continued. “How and when we exercise this right is up to the commander-in-chief”, but the attacks are “potentially fatal, and we take them seriously”.
Last Wednesday, the Ain al-Asad air base was again attacked with 14 rockets, causing minor injuries.
Read more: 14 rockets hit the Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq; reported injuries: Coalition
Reuters contradicts previous PA report
On July 9, two days after the attack, the Associated Press (AP) published an article that was the exact opposite of Tuesday’s Reuters report. AP claimed that Esmail Ghaani, Qasim Soleimani’s successor as head of the IRGC’s Quds Force, visited Baghdad last month and told militias he supports to exercise restraint, until the conclusion of nuclear talks between the United States and Iran.
According to AP, the militia leaders rejected Ghaani’s leadership. They claimed that “they could not remain silent” and had to avenge the deaths of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, who died alongside the Iranian in the US strike. of January 2020 which targeted it.
Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where he works on Iran, credits the Reuters report rather than the PA report.
Ben Taleblu told Kurdistan 24 that he was “very skeptical” of the PA report when it came out. He noted that attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq against US targets peaked in August 2020. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then made very serious threats: shutting down the US embassy in Baghdad and relocating them. operations in Erbil.
US military action would follow and “liquidate all those found to be involved in these acts,” Pompeo reportedly warned.
Read more: U.S. to close Baghdad embassy, but keep Erbil consulate open
The militias, with the support of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a truce that pretty much lasted for the rest of the Trump administration.
After the Biden administration took office, the attacks resumed. He retaliated twice by hitting militia targets along the Iraqi-Syrian border. His deliberate, understated, and proportionate response stands in stark contrast to Pompeo’s dramatic threat.
Ben Taleblu, criticizing the PA report, noted the inconsistency between the militias’ months-long truce following Pompeo’s stern warning and the claim that last month the militias rejected the Ghaani’s call for restraint until the conclusion of nuclear talks.
“All of a sudden, they feel obligated to respond to Muhandis [death]Asked Ben Taleblu. “I don’t see the situation like that at all.
Ben Taleblu still believes that most of the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria only attack US targets if this is acceptable to Iran. The idea that Tehran told them to withdraw and that they refused seemed implausible to him, while he stressed that Tehran feared only one thing: “the threat of military force”. As he noted, the Reuters report is “consistent with Iran’s understanding of the dynamics of escalation.”
Indeed, the Biden administration does not appear to have created the basis for deterrence, but rather the “tit-for-tat”, with every modest American response being absorbed by the militias and their Iranian support, who will undoubtedly respond with more. attacks in the future.