The Trump White House warned Iran on Tuesday that attacks against American personnel and facilities in Iraq by Tehran’s allies and proxies will not be tolerated.
The warning was issued after attacks against the American diplomatic consulate in Basra and the embassy in Baghdad.
The terse White House statement promised to respond “swiftly and decisively” to further provocations:
Over the past few days, we have seen life-threatening attacks in Iraq, including on the United States consulate in Basra and against the American embassy compound in Baghdad. Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons.
The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States Government facilities. America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives.
Several rockets were fired at the airport in Basra on Saturday, and at least one rocket was fired into Baghdad’s “Green Zone” in the vicinity of the American Embassy. The U.S. consulate in Basra is located in the airport.
“U.S. officials haven’t made public any evidence that Iran ordered the attacks, and some U.S. officials said the Shiite militias may have been acting on their own,” the Wall Street Journal noted on Tuesday. Neither of the attacks struck U.S. property or injured American citizens.
One American official told the Journal there has been “explicit incitement in social media” by Shiite militia leaders with terrorist resumes and firm links to Tehran and said the rockets launched at the Basra airport were probably targeted at the U.S. consulate.
Iraq expert Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told the Atlantic on Wednesday that Shiite militia groups have constructed permanent launch sites in Baghdad — little more than pipes sunk in the ground and angled at the U.S. Embassy — to make rocket attacks convenient.
Knights added that Shiite fighters in Baghdad need very little prodding from Tehran to shoot rockets at the U.S. Embassy because they are close enough to the Iranian leadership to sense when violent antics are desirable. Other analysts suggested attacks on American installations could be a means of competing for influence and recruiting new members among Shiite leaders, some of whom may well end up as officials in the next Iraqi government.
The Shiite groups have been publicly blaming the United States for orchestrating violence in Basra, an oil-rich Shiite-dominated city where protesters recently looted and burned the Iranian consulate to denounce Iran’s growing influence on Iraqi politics. Iran opened a new consulate in Basra on Wednesday and accused the Iraqi government of negligence for failing to protect the old one.
Although Basra appeared to calm down over the weekend, the Washington Post predicted its unrest has already sealed the political doom of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is facing calls for his resignation after clashing with the Basra governor and losing important political supporters.