Iraqi investigators, not the Biden administration, will determine whether Iran is to blame for two rocket attacks that endangered American troops and diplomats in a move that parts from the Trump administration, which typically blamed Tehran.
The move comes as the Biden administration holds out hope for renewed negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and that the United States will rejoin the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.
“This has nothing to do with any diplomatic efforts that may or may not be happening,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday. “It has to do with trying to make sure we judge accountability the right way, and that’s what the secretary wants to give our Iraqi partners the time and space to do.”
Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Iraqi counterpart after the Feb. 15 attacks on Iraqi facilities in Erbil that endangered Americans and that the secretary offered his assistance.
The spokesman added that he is not aware of whether the offer has been accepted yet, nor what that would constitute.
In the meantime, the Department of Defense refrained from blaming Iran for supporting the militia groups believed to be responsible for the attack in Erbil and a Green Zone attack near the U.S. Embassy on Monday.
Kirby said the attacks had the same markings as past Iranian-backed militia attacks on Americans.
“We’ve seen these kinds of attacks before, rocket attacks in particular, and historically, they have been perpetrated by Shia-backed militia, using similar weapons and similar tactics,” Kirby said.
At another point, Kirby admitted that the rockets are often found to be Iranian-made.
“I don’t want to get into the forensics of these specific attacks,” he said. “Broadly speaking, we have seen that many of these attacks have used Iranian-made, Iranian-supply weaponry.”
Kirby could not say if deferring the investigation to the Iraqi government was a Biden policy change.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t speak to the previous administration and how they handled these things.”
An inquiry seeking a clarification has not been answered.