Diplomatic and military officials said Mr. Biden’s broader goal was to reduce hostilities between the United States and Iran and their proxies in the region, including Iraq, and to seek a return to peace. diplomacy with Tehran. This week, the United States extended the opening of new negotiations with Iran to limit its nuclear program.
The reconciliation effort comes as the Biden administration is simultaneously watching the murderous militias in Iraq that officials say are acting with Tehran’s help and, perhaps, orders. Attacks on the Americans by Iran or its proxies could defeat the larger diplomatic goal, officials said.
They could also reverse a new attempt by the United States to persuade Iraq to move away from Iran – without expecting to sever their spiritual, economic and cultural ties – by offering incentives rather than threats.
“For America to pursue its values and interests in the world, we must be engaged in the world,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said after the Erbil attack. “And, of course, engaging in some corners of the world carries additional risks.”
So far, two senior Defense Department officials said, there has been no detailed discussion at Pentagon central command over a specific military response to the Erbil strike on Monday, as US authorities and Iraqi women are investigating who launched the attack. Mr. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, who flew three combat missions in Iraq, spoke to their Iraqi counterparts to offer assistance with the investigation.
Officials blame Erbil rockets from Iranian-backed militias such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which were held responsible for previous similar strikes. But officials from the White House, State Department and the Pentagon refrained from making specific charges.
“What an important test for the new administration,” Simone Ledeen, senior Pentagon mid-level policy official until last month, said on Twitter Monday. “Will be interested to see if there is an answer.”
Iraqis have long been suspicious of US officials who, after ordering a military invasion in 2003 and deposing Saddam Hussein, are still blamed for the security vacuum that followed after the disbandment of the Iraqi military by the US occupation authorities. Anger towards the United States erupted again last month, when the Trump administration pardoned four American security contractors for their role in the 2007 massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad.
As vice president of the Obama administration, Biden was among those who oversaw the end of the American-led war in Iraq and the withdrawal of the last 50,000 combat troops in 2011, only to be surprised by the rise of the Islamic State two years later.
Officials said Mr Biden had a very personal interest in Iraq, where his son Beau served in the Army National Guard and was exposed to toxic burners that could have led to brain cancer that left him. killed in 2015.
Its Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken, has begun what a senior State Department official described on Friday as a review of US policy in Iraq that allows for a change in approach. The review will include the Pentagon’s comments before it is presented to the White House, possibly as early as next month.
The administration plans to return hundreds of diplomats, security agents and contractors to the Baghdad embassy; staffing was downsized in May 2019 during a period of heightened tensions with Iran, resulting in fluctuating staffing levels since.
The State Department is not yet ready to reopen its consulate in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, a key listening post near the Iranian border, which the Trump administration closed in September 2018 after the compound of the airport where he was based was blown up by militias. No one was injured in this attack.
The department is also considering expanding the limits the Trump administration has placed on the amount of energy the Iraqi government can buy from Iran – an arrangement that critics say could fund attacks from Tehran, but provide a lifeline for millions of people who would otherwise go without electricity.
Iraqi bank officials met with U.S. diplomats this week on the issue, which currently forces Baghdad to ask Washington every few months for a waiver to buy energy without facing sanctions.
Two other officials in the Biden administration said the United States Agency for International Development is also considering sending more humanitarian aid to parts of Iraq, mainly to the western and northern regions. north of the country, which have been the hardest hit by the Islamic State.
But several Pentagon officials and senior officers said the red lines of Biden’s team were unclear when it came to protecting U.S. personnel in Iraq from Iran or its proxy fighters.
After a rocket attack that killed an American contractor in December 2019, the United States blamed Kataib Hezbollah and bombed five of its bases. This led to a siege at the U.S. Embassy, where protesters trapped diplomats inside the sprawling compound for two days and, in turn, prompted Mr. Trump to order a military strike that killed Iran’s most revered general on his way to Baghdad.
David Schenker, assistant secretary of state for Middle East policy under Mr. Trump’s leadership, said it was the responsibility of the Shiite-led Iraqi government to coerce Iranian-backed militias.
“I don’t think that by spreading flattery on Iran you will get better behavior in Iraq,” Schenker, now a senior researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in a statement. interview. “At the end of the day, it’s all about Iran – the missiles, the weapons, the funding, the leadership all come from Tehran.”
Military officials say 14 107-millimeter rockets were launched in the Erbil attack, but six failed. The attack from territory controlled by Kurdish forces raised concerns about security gaps in what has been considered the safest region of Iraq.
A little-known group known as Awliya al Dam, or Guardians of the Blood, claimed responsibility for the attack, but they provided no evidence. The group claimed responsibility for two bombings last August against convoys of US contractors carrying military equipment.
A rust prevention system was in place and operating at Erbil airport at the time of the attack, but the rockets landed in an area not covered by the system, a US military official said.
U.S. commanders said the 2,500 troops currently in Iraq – about half the number last summer – would be enough not only to act as a bulwark against Iranian proxies and other influences, but also to aid the forces of Iraqi security to hunt down the remaining pockets of Islamics. State fighters.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday he would increase his military mission in Iraq to 4,000 out of 500 troops, and expand training beyond Baghdad.
Jane Arraf contributed reporting from Amman, Jordan.