Last Monday, a rocket attack said to be targeted at U.S. troops stationed in Baghdad killed five civilians. No group has claimed the Katyushu rocket attack, however Iraqi intelligence sources have accused Iran-backed armed forces in Iraq. This attack, along with numerous others this year, have put pressure on the United States government. The U.S. recently threatened to close its diplomatic mission in the country. It also said that it will reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000, according to the BBC.
The U.S. State Department expressed outrage towards the attack the following day. Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus stressed in a statement that Iran-backed armed forces are the “biggest deterrent to stability in Iraq”. According to the BBC, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also condemned the ongoing attacks. He warned Iraqi President Barham Salih in a telephone call last week that the U.S. embassy would be closed if attacks continue. The Iraqi government, however, has assured that perpetrators would be punished. In fact, the BBC reported Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi promised that the “gangs” responsible would not be tolerated and would receive their “just punishment”.
Iraqi civilians are the victims of this recent attack, and mourners have critiqued the government’s failure to provide reliable domestic security. Indeed, Al Jazeera reported that one mourner said, “If the government isn’t capable of protecting us, how can it ensure the security of Iraq as a whole?”
The U.S.’ outrage is highly warranted considering this is not the first attack to target U.S. interests in Iraq this year. U.S. personnel in the country are at constant threat, and a lack of security there is only heightening the risks of casualties. With this in mind, it seems reasonable for the U.S. to consider closing its embassy in Iraq alongside reducing its military presence. The Iraqi government’s response, however, has been relatively ambiguous. While it has openly condemned the attack, and assured perpetrators would be punished, it has not been open in how it will enhance domestic security. This is particularly important if the Iraqi government wants to reduce anxiety amongst Iraqi citizens.
As reported by Al Jazeera, at least 39 rocket attacks have been launched in Iraq between October 2019 and July 2020. The attacks have predominantly been targeted at U.S. interests according to Iraqi intelligence. In recent months, a similar number of rockets have been launched as well. Nonetheless, this was the first attack that has led to civilian casualties in several months.
At this stage, it is uncertain what could happen if the U.S. closes its diplomatic mission in Iraq. A reduction in its diplomatic presence there could imply an escalation to the Iran-U.S. confrontation. It is also possible that Iran-backed armed forces and terrorist groups in Iraq will benefit from a decreased U.S. military presence in the region. Overall, Iraq’s failing security apparatus is the main concern. It is imperative that the U.S., and perhaps regional actors, concentrate efforts on restoring stability in the country. This means eliminating the threat of illegitimate armed forces in Iraq and a greater commitment to public safety.
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