U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Security Council (NSC), led by John Bolton, urged the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran after attacks in September 2018 near U.S. assets in Iraq believed to be carried out by Tehran-allied Shiite militias, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Sunday.
According to the Journal, “The Pentagon complied with the NSC’s request to develop options for striking Iran, the officials said. But it isn’t clear if the proposals were provided to the White House, whether Mr. Trump knew of the request or whether serious plans for a U.S. strike against Iran took shape at that time.”
In November, the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces/Units (PMF/U), also known as Hashd al Shaabi, are “likely” responsible for the mortar attack on Baghdad’s diplomatic quarter that houses the American embassy and rockets fired at the Basrah Airport near the U.S. Consulate General there in September. The attacks resulted in no casualties.
Baghdad has legalized the PMF, an umbrella organization for mainly Shiite militias linked to Iran, as a component of the U.S.-assisted and trained Iraqi security forces.
Citing the September attacks, the Pentagon OIG deemed the PMF a threat to U.S. troops in Iraq. Nevertheless, the NSC request for options to strike Iran over the PMF-linked attack generated “concern at the Pentagon and State Department,” WSJ learned from unnamed current and former U.S. officials.
“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior U.S. administration official told the Journal of the request. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
The request [to strike Iran], which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot and harmed no one.But they triggered unusual alarm in Washington, where Mr. Trump’s national security team led by John Bolton conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful U.S. response, including what many saw as the unusual request for options to strike Iran.
Garrett Marquis, an NSC spokesman, explained that the request was part of options provided to the president on how to handle threats.
The NSC “coordinates policy and provides the president with options to anticipate and respond to a variety of threats,” he said. “We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate, and we will consider a full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests.”
Bolton supports President Trump’s confrontational approach to Iran.
“As national security adviser, Mr. Bolton is charged with providing a range of diplomatic, military and economic advice to the president. Former U.S. officials said it was unnerving that the NSC asked for far-reaching military options to strike Iran in response to attacks that caused little damage and no injuries,” WSJ acknowledged.
The Trump administration has vowed to combat Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and beyond. Under Trump, the U.S. has intensified pressure on Tehran, imposing a wave of sanctions.
Mira Ricardel, Bolton’s deputy at the time of the request, reportedly described the attacks attributed to Shiite militias as an “act of war,” adding that the “the U.S. had to respond decisively,” the Journal reported, citing an anonymous person familiar with the meeting said.
“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,” the White House said in response to the September attacks linked to Iran, vowing to respond “swiftly and decisively.”
“Iran will be held accountable for those incidents,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on September 21, referring to the incidents.
“They’re going to be held accountable,” he stressed. “If they’re responsible for the arming and training of these militias, we’re going to go to the source.”
Last November, a spokesman for the Pentagon told Breitbart News that combating the Iran-allied Shiite militias is not part of the United States mission in Iraq despite the menace posed by the PMF, as described by several Trump administration officials and lawmakers.
PMF fighters have earned the praise of the U.S. military over their contribution to the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). Not all PMF fighters are linked to Iran. The force also includes Sunni, Kurdish, and Christian fighters.