A second attack in two weeks against an area housing U.S. personnel on Monday bears all the signs of another act of violence by Iran, yet the Pentagon says it’s continuing to investigate.
The Pentagon on Monday acknowledged an “uptick” in violence in Iraq against installations housing U.S. forces that mirror prior attacks orchestrated by Iran, though it continued to decline to attribute the latest incidents to any specific set of perpetrators..
Defense Department spokesman John Kirby described the troubling security situation in Iraq moments after the U.S. headquarters there confirmed a rocket attack against the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad. Those reports came a week after a rocket attack against a base housing U.S. forces outside Irbil in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region that killed at least one contractor from the U.S.-led coalition and injured many others.
“It’s difficult to say with any certainty whether there’s a strategic calculation driving this uptick – this recent uptick in attacks or whether this is just a continuation of the sorts of attacks we’ve seen in the past,” Kirby said Monday afternoon.
Though alluding to prior violence that the Trump administration was all too eager to attribute to Iran, Kirby said the U.S. is still investigating these latest attacks and is not yet prepared to release its findings.
Speculation has mounted in the week since the attack in Irbil that the White House may be trying to downplay a new threat posed by Iran and its proxy forces in Iraq, particularly as American officials in the region and Kurdish authorities have already indicated privately to U.S. News that preliminary investigations show Iran and its proxy militias in Iraq were behind last week’s attack.
Kirby last week pushed back on the idea that political considerations were overriding public confirmation of the source of the attacks, saying, “I would not read into the manner in which we’re going about this as some sort of policy derivative.”
President Joe Biden has repeatedly stressed his desire to open new lines of diplomatic engagement with Tehran as a sharp break from the Trump administration’s punishing “maximum pressure campaign.” Last week, the State Department indicated it is now willing to engage with Iran through international partners on the future of its nuclear program, one of the thorniest international issues the administration faces.
Tehran appeared to shoot down this offer almost immediately, saying the U.S. must first lift the devastating economic and diplomatic sanctions the Trump administration imposed after it unilaterally broke from the 2015 nuclear accord before any negotiations may proceed. In addition to the uptick in violence in Iraq, Iran has also continued pursuing uranium enrichment at levels the State Department says could only be used for developing a nuclear weapon and that mark a clear break from the terms of the 2015 deal.
Analysts say the current administration has been more forgiving in its response to these provocations than its predecessor.
“At least for now the Biden administration is looking past Iran’s unwise and dangerous temper tantrums,” Nazee Moinian, a non-resident scholar with the Middle East Institute’s Policy Center, wrote in an analysis note on Monday.
A spokesman for the U.S. mission overseeing the conflict against the Islamic State group and other extremists confirmed Monday’s attack via Twitter, saying initial assessments indicated no casualties or major damage. The rockets fell at roughly 7:30 p.m. local time, Army Col. Wayne Marotto of Operation Inherent Resolve said. Local Iraqi authorities indicated three rockets were launched in the attack.