President Biden’s team will not “lash out” in response to rocket attacks in Iraq, in part due to the risk that retaliation might backfire in Baghdad, says a senior State Department official.
“What we will not do is lash out and risk an escalation that plays into the hands of Iran and contributes to their attempts to further destabilize Iraq,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday.
A pair of rockets landed near the U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad known as the Green Zone earlier Monday, the third barrage against U.S. or coalition positions in Iraq over the last week. Biden’s administration has avoided blaming Iran for these specific strikes as his foreign policy advisers move to rehabilitate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, although Price acknowledged that Iran is often responsible for such incidents.
“We have stated before that we will hold Iran responsible for the actions of its proxies that attack Americans,” Price said.
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The Green Zone explosions occurred two days after a four-rocket barrage hit Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad. Yet another attack took place last week in Erbil, where one civilian contractor was killed and several others injured.
“We are still determining precise attribution,” he said. “This is something that remains under active investigation.”
That’s a more muted public response than the precedent set during Donald Trump’s presidency, as U.S. forces killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani — together with a senior leader of the Iranian-controlled militias in Iraq — last January after a rocket attack killed an American. Iran hawks regard Biden’s response as too docile, but it is also true that the Soleimani strike spurred Iraqi lawmakers to threaten the legal basis for the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
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“Broadly speaking, we have seen that many of these attacks have used Iranian-made, Iranian-supplied weaponry,” Price said. “I wouldn’t want to get ahead of the investigation.”