December 24, 2020
On Wednesday, President Trump blamed Iran for a rocket attack on the US embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone that took place on Sunday.
President Trump wrote on Twitter: “Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch. Guess where they were from: IRAN. Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq.”
He added: “Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.”
Trump’s accusation followed Secretary of Mike Pompeo, who blamed the attack on “Iran-backed” militias. Iran denied the charge and has made it clear in recent weeks that they have no interest in provoking the US and even warned militias in Iraq not to fire on US targets.
An Iranian general delivered the message to Iraq after a report said President Trump reviewed options to attack an Iranian nuclear site. But some Shia militias in Iraq rejected the Iranian warning.
The leader of the Shia militia Asaib al-Ahl Haq responded sharply to Iran’s warning. “The Americans occupy our country, not yours. We will not listen to you anymore because our motives are 100 percent nationalist,” Qais al-Khazali said in a TV interview.
Despite the Iranians clear desire to avoid a military confrontation with the US before Trump leaves office, the tripwire is set, and any US casualty between now and January 20th will be blamed on Iran. According to a report from Reuters, the US could already be preparing a military response to Sunday’s attack.
An unnamed administration official told Reuters that top US officials agreed on a “range of options” to present to the president aimed at deterring further attacks on the US in Iraq. The official did not say whether the options included a military operation or not. Sources told Axios that the US was considering quickly closing its embassy in Baghdad in response to Sunday’s attack.
In September, Pompeo threatened to close the US embassy in Iraq in response to rocket attacks on the Green Zone. The threat to close the embassy came along with the threat of US airstrikes on Shia militias. According to a report from Middle East Eye, Pompeo presented the Iraqi government with a list of 80 targets the US would strike if it went through with the embassy closure.
January 3rd marks the one-year anniversary of the US assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed alongside Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes. The series of events that led to the assassination was sparked by a rocket attack on a base in Kirkuk, Iraq, that killed a US contractor on December 27th, 2019.
The US blamed the Kirkuk attack on Kataib Hezbollah, a Shia militia the US sees as an Iranian proxy. The US responded to the Kirkuk attack by launching airstrikes on several Kataib Hezbollah targets, killing 25 of the group’s fighters. The airstrikes enraged many Iraqis, and protesters stormed the US embassy. After the embassy incident, President Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Soleimani and al-Mohandes.
The US never substantiated the claim that Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for the Kirkuk attack. In February, Iraqi intelligence officials told The New York Times that it was more likely that ISIS carried out the Kirkuk attack.