US strikes 'Iranian-backed militant' site in Syria: Pentagon

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi in Ankara Turkey on 17 December 2020

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi in Ankara Turkey on 17 December 2020

The strike was said to be conducted in retaliation for the 15 February rocket attack on the Erbil Air Base in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In the week since Washington offered to talk with Tehran about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has curbed United Nations monitoring, threatened to boost uranium enrichment and its suspected proxies have twice rocketed Iraqi bases with us soldiers.

After months of silence over an agreement reached by pro-Iranian factions, it faced threats from the United States to suspend its diplomatic mission.

President Joe Biden okays air strike against a structure belonging to what the U.S. says were Iran-backed militia.

Under the Trump administration, the escalatory back-and-forth stoked tensions, culminating in the U.S. killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian ballistic missile attack against United States forces in Iraq previous year.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision to carry out the strikes was meant to send a signal that while the United States wanted to punish the militias, it did not want the situation to spiral into a bigger conflict. A week later, a rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone appeared to target the U.S. Embassy compound, but no one was hurt.

Biden's decision to strike only in Syria and not in Iraq, at least for now, also gives the Iraqi government some breathing room as it carries out its own investigation of a Feb.15 attack that wounded Americans.

The incidents were consistent with the dozens of attacks past year, which usually involved a score of 107mm rockets fired from a truck, security officials said.

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In the aftermath of Monday's last fire, Washington said Iran should "take responsibility for the actions of its allies in attacking Americans", but stressed that it would avoid provoking an "increase" in its forces.

The most recent airstrike against Iranian-backed militias was in December 2019, which hit targets in both Iraq and Syria. "And intelligence shared with us says there are more to come".

The 2015 deal between Iran and six major powers limited Iran's uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms - an ambition Iran has long denied having - in return for the easing of sanctions.

Finally, economic reasons may push Tehran to Baghdad. Iraqi officials say Baghdad is reluctant to release about $ 2 billion for fear of upsetting Washington. Tensions soared after a Washington-directed drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and powerful Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis past year.

One official said the strike was in response to the recent rocket attacks in Iraq.

"Qaani told them that unless they get money out of the TBI account, they wouldn't be able to control the activities of armed groups in Iraq", a senior Iraqi official with close knowledge of the trip told AFP.

Trump had said the death of a U.S. contractor would be a red line and provoke U.S. escalation in Iraq.

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