led a series of attacks by Iran-backed militias against the Americans in Iraq and Syria To increase pressure on US President Joe Biden to deter Iran’s militias, as some Republicans and military experts criticized his approach to dealing with Iran as insufficient and ineffective.
US forces and diplomats in Iraq and Syria have been targeted with six missile and drone attacks this week alone, including at least 14 that landed on a base in Iraq on Wednesday, wounding two US service members.
Ain al-Assad base in Iraq (archive – AFP)
This development is the latest in an escalation of conflict between the United States and Iran-backed militias, which have escalated their attacks on American forces in recent months despite Biden’s stated goal of deterrence through retaliatory strikes.
The conflict once again tests Biden’s determination to walk away from years of American war in the Middle East so that his administration can focus on ending the pandemic and confronting Russia and China. Biden’s headache may increase after this year’s Congressional threat to curtail the president’s powers to launch strikes in the region.
This week, Republicans criticized Biden’s minimal approach to Iran, noting that his two retaliatory strikes failed to deter Iran’s proxies.
“The continued attack of Iranian-backed militias on American personnel in Iraq cannot be tolerated,” Republican Senator Jim Inhoff, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement to “Politico.” His minimalist approach, which fails to deter Iran or its militias and puts American lives at increased risk.”
As they press Biden, saying the current situation is unsustainable, Biden’s Democratic allies object that the president does not have the authority to launch offensive strikes against Iranian-backed militias without first seeking congressional approval.
Meanwhile, former defense officials have called on the president to continue responding to the attacks. Mick Mulroy, who oversaw Pentagon policy in the Middle East during President Donald Trump’s administration, noted that “Iran needs to know that it cannot hide behind its proxy forces.”
But Biden’s options are limited to contain the situation. He has already twice directed air strikes targeting facilities used by militias in Iraq and Syria — once in February and again in late June — in response to a series of drone attacks but to little effect even as his administration asserts that the strikes were intended to deter future attacks.
It also risks exacerbating tensions with Iraq, which condemned the June airstrike on Iraqi soil as a “flagrant” violation of national sovereignty.
Meanwhile, the military is combating misinformation about additional attacks on US forces in Syria, and rumors that Washington is facing pressure from the Iraqi government to withdraw from the country, both of which officials have attributed to Iranian propaganda.
On Thursday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the department was “extremely concerned” about the attacks, and hinted that the president might choose to respond again.
Analysts say the escalation in the conflict could complicate bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill to rein in the president’s war powers. Next week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve a bill to repeal the president’s two authorizations to use military force against Iraq.
On Monday, the committee will receive a briefing from senior administration officials on how the cancellation will affect current military operations, with a focus on the escalating conflict with Iran-backed militias. Biden supports repealing old licenses, and the House has already approved similar efforts.
But some Republican senators have already promised to make the process difficult, arguing that revoking the 2002-91 Iraq war permits would send a dangerous message to the Iranian-backed militias that continue to strike US positions in Iraq.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz told Politico he will introduce an amendment to the repeal next week that would preserve the president’s ability to attack Iran and its proxies, which Republicans consider a top priority, including Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. , who urged Biden to “show strength in the face of these attacks.”
“It must be made clear that if our forces are attacked in any part of the world, we will not only respond, but we will respond quickly and forcefully,” Rogers told the newspaper.