Iran-Backed Militants Attack U.S. Embassy in Iraq
Hundreds of Iranian-backed militia fighters invaded the compound of the United States embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday after breaking down the compound gate. The militants reached within 200 meters of the main building, but did not enter the main embassy buildings themselves. They lit fires, caused other damage and chanted “Death to America!” inside the compound before withdrawing to join thousands of other militia fighters and protesters outside. American soldiers responded to the incursion with tear gas, stun grenades and warning shots, wounding around 62 of the militants. No Americans were injured in the attack. The U.S. ambassador was not in the embassy when the attack occurred. U.S. diplomats and staffers onsite were reportedly assembled together in a secured safe room.
Iranian-backed Iraqi militia leaders were out in full force. “Some commanders of militia factions loyal to Iran joined the protesters outside the embassy,” according to the Associated Press. “Among them was Qais al-Khizali, the head of one of the most powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq who is on a U.S. terror list, and Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the state-sanctioned paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units, the umbrella group for the Iran-backed militias.”
President Trump vowed to hold Iran accountable for the embassy compound attack, as well as for the earlier rocket attack reportedly launched by a leading Iranian-backed Iraqi militia group, Kata’ib Hezbollah, that killed an American contractor. The president tweeted, “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”
The Pentagon deployed 100 additional marines in Chinook helicopters to reinforce protection of the embassy. “We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense,” said U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a statement.
The militants’ assault on the U.S. embassy compound is the latest in a series of escalating confrontations drawing Iraq further into the regional conflict between the United States and the Iranian regime. It follows the rocket attack conducted by Iranian proxies, to which the United States responded with an airstrike in Iraq and Syria that killed at least 24 Hezbollah-affiliated militants and wounded dozens of others.
U.S. officials are concerned that the Iraqi government is not doing enough to fulfill its obligation to protect embassy personnel because of undue influence exerted by Iran. Iraqi security forces were reportedly slow to counter the militants, who carried out their attack after attending a funeral for the militants killed as a result of the U.S. airstrikes. The Iraqi National Security Council focused squarely on blaming the United States for having conducted its airstrikes in “violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.” The statement added, “This is a serious violation of the rules of engagement of the Coalition forces, including the US forces, in carrying out operations without the approval of the Iraqi Government.”
According to a White House statement as reported by Reuters, President Trump spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi about “regional security issues” following the embassy compound attack. The president “emphasized the need to protect United States personnel and facilities in Iraq.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also had separate phone calls with Prime Minister Mahdi and President Barham Salih in an effort to set them straight that “the United States will protect and defend its people.” In addition, Secretary Pompeo communicated via social media that the U.S. had “responded defensively to the Iranian proxy attack that killed an American citizen.”
Secretary Pompeo takes the security of his diplomats and other American citizens seriously.Too bad that his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, did not. She turned a deaf ear to requests for more security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, where U.S. ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were murdered by Islamic terrorists.
A threatening statement was issued around midnight last Sunday by the Iranian-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah militia group, which was reportedly behind the rocket attack that killed the American contractor. The statement foreshadowed an act of revenge against the United States for the retaliatory U.S. airstrikes that killed militia members. “Our battle with America and its mercenaries is now open to all possibilities,” Kata’ib Hezbollah said in the statement. “We have no alternative today other than confrontation and there is nothing that will prevent us from responding to this crime.”
It is hardly likely that the invasion of the U.S. embassy compound by Iranian-backed militia, which followed within 48 hours of Kata’ib Hezbollah’s threat, was a mere coincidence. Given Kata’ib Hezbollah’s background, U.S. forces must be prepared for more violent provocations.
Kata’ib Hezbollah gets its financing from Iran, principally from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force. According to the Counter Extremism Project, Kata’ib Hezbollah is “virulently anti-American and ideologically loyal to the Iranian regime” with “long-standing ties to Iran’s external military branch, the IRGC-Quds Force, as well as to Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.” According to a 2013 Rand Corporation research report, “Unlike other violent Iraqi Shi’a extremists, members of Kata’ib Hezbollah swear an oath of fealty to the Iranian Supreme Leader.”Designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Kata’ib Hezbollah has American blood on its hands. Given its very close ties to Iran’s leadership and its dependency on the Iranian regime for financing, Kata’ib Hezbollah for all intents and purposes is an arm of Iran’s IRGC-Quds Force.
Thus, President Trump is correct in holding Iran directly responsible for any attacks conducted by Kata’ib Hezbollah or by any other Iranian-backed militia against Americans in Iraq or anywhere else. Retaliatory military force may be the only language the Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies understand if maximum economic pressure does not work.