US President Donald Trump has warned Iran of any possible attack on US military or diplomatic personnel in Iraq.
Following the rocket attack targeting the US Embassy in the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, eyes turned to Iranian-backed Iraqi militias.
Following the attack, US national security officials had gathered to prepare a series of proposals to be presented to President Trump to deter a possible attack on American interests in Iraq.
This warning from US President Donald Trump came after the meeting of senior officials.
The group, consisting of Deputy Defense Secretary Chris Miller, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, met at the White House, Reuter reported.
US officials have long stated that Iran or its Iraqi militias may carry out retaliatory attacks on the anniversary of the drone attack in which Iran’s Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani was killed near Baghdad Airport on January 3.
A senior Trump administration official told Reuters that the purpose of the meeting at the White House was to “identify a set of correct options to be presented to the President to deter Iranians and Shiite militias in Iraq from attacking our staff.”
In a message shared on Twitter after the meeting, President Trump touched on the rocket attack in the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad on December 20 that caused minor damage to the US Embassy premises as well as settlements in the international region.
“Our Embassy in Baghdad was the target of a rocket attack on Sunday. Three rockets did not reach their target. Guess where were the rockets from? IRAN, ”he wrote.
The US President shared a picture allegedly showing the rockets fired by Iran with this message. Trump, in his Twitter message, said, “It is spoken that there may be other attacks against Americans in Iraq. Friendly advice to Iran: If an American dies, I will hold Iran responsible. Think well, ”he reminded America’s red line once again using the expressions.
Iran’s reaction to Trump
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif denied President Trump’s claim that Iran was behind the rocket attack. Zarif shared the message that “by endangering your citizens outside your borders, you cannot divert attention from the terrible failures inside the United States.”
Said Hatipzade, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, described Trump’s accusations as unfounded and stated that Iran repeatedly condemned the attacks on diplomatic and residential areas.
According to the report of Iran’s official news agency IRNA, the Iranian spokesperson said that “Tehran will hold the United States responsible for the consequences of any unwise action taken in the current circumstances.”
“All fingers point to the USA and its allies in the region, which are trying to increase the tension,” Hatipzade said.
Statement from CENTCOM
The US Central Forces Command (CENTCOM) stated in a written statement that it is almost certain that the rocket attack in Iraq was organized by a militia group supported by Iran.
In the statement made by CENTCOM, it was pointed out that although there was no injury or loss of life on the US side in the rocket attack, the US Embassy campus was damaged in the attack and it was not intended to cause casualties in the attack.
What happened on December 20?
Following the rocket attack on December 20, the Iraqi army said in a statement that an illegal group fired eight rockets into the Green Zone, where the embassy and government buildings are located in Baghdad.
Most of the rockets fell near an empty settlement and checkpoint, and an Iraqi security guard was injured.
Although there were no Americans killed or injured in the rocket attack, the attack and President Trump’s warning revealed that there was a tense situation in Iraq that could break out of control at any time.
How did the tension climb?
In the rocket attack, which was stated to be carried out by militias supported by Iran in December 2019, a contracted personnel working for the US Defense Department died, and the US and Iraqi soldiers were injured in the military base in Kirkuk, in northern Iraq.
Following the rocket attack, Iran Quds Force Commander Kasım Süleymani was killed in a US drone operation on January 3, and Iran attacked the bases in Iraq where US soldiers were located.
There were concerns that the spiral of tension between the parties would bring Iran and the USA to the brink of war.
Show of strength from the USA to Iran
As the anniversary of Soleimani’s murder approached, a US nuclear submarine carrying 154 Tomahawk missiles crossed the Strait of Hormuz on December 21; this situation was considered as a show of strength towards Iran.
The US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has been patrolling the Gulf since the end of November.
Finally, two US-owned B-52 bombers flew in the area, which was described as a show of force against Iran.
General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of CENTCOM, who is responsible for the US forces in the Middle East, said: “I consider that we are in a good position. We are ready against what the Iranians or their proxies can do, ”he said.
The anniversary of the murder of Qasem Soleimani is approaching US officials have accused Iranian-backed Iraqi militias of attacking US interests in Iraq this year; Washington had threatened to withdraw its troops from the country and evacuate the Baghdad Embassy.
The Trump administration ordered in November to reduce the number of US troops in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 by mid-January.
Iraqi militia groups announced in October that they were suspending attacks on US interests in the region for a short time, provided that a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq was presented. This ceasefire ended with a rocket attack on the US Embassy on November 18.
The US announced in early December that it had withdrawn a number of staff from its embassy because of the tension.
US officials have stated that the temporary reduction in staffing was linked to potential threats as the anniversary of the murder of Qasem Soleimani and the leading Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Engineer approaches.
Killing of Iranian nuclear researcher adds tensions
The tensions were further escalated when Muhsin Fahrizade, Iran’s leading nuclear researcher, was killed near Tehran in late November.
Iran blamed Israel and indirectly the US.
What will Biden do about Iran?
The developments in Iraq came at a time when Trump increased pressure on Iran as he was preparing to hand over the mandate to Joe Biden.
Biden had stated that after taking office in January, he would try to revive diplomacy with Iran.
Biden is expected to try to reintroduce the US into the nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018, and strengthen the terms of the agreement by working with allies, if Iran meets the conditions again.
CENTCOM Commander: “I don’t think Iran wants a war with the US right now, either”
In the statements of Western diplomats and the news reflected in the media, it is stated that Iran told the Iraqi militia groups to refrain from provoking the US in the last weeks of the Trump administration, fearing that the tension might escalate before the Biden administration, which is stated to adopt an attitude towards diplomacy on Iran.
However, there are also questions about how much control Iran has over Iraqi militia groups in the region. This increases the concern that some accidents or miscalculations may occur.
CENTCOM Commander General McKenzie told ABC television on December 22, “I think we are in a period of high risk. I want to underline this important point: We are not increasing the tension. We do not want war with Iran. I want to emphasize this, ”he said. “I don’t think Iran wants a war with the US right now, either,” he added.