Top U.S. Officials Discuss Options to Protect Americans in Iraq from Iran Attacks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) —
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei  in Tehran, Iran December 16, 2020. (Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS)

Top U.S. national security officials agreed on Wednesday on a proposed range of options to present to President Donald Trump aimed at deterring any attack on U.S. military or diplomatic personnel in Iraq, a senior administration official told Reuters.

The meeting was spurred by an attack on Dec. 20. At least eight rockets landed in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone in an attack targeting the U.S. Embassy, causing some minor damage, the Iraqi military and the embassy said on Sunday.

The official said the so-called principals committee group of officials, including acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, discussed the situation at the White House.

They agreed on a “range of options” that will be presented soon to Trump, the official said. The official would not describe the content of the options or say whether they included military options.

“Each one is designed to be non-escalatory and to deter further attack,” the official said.

The Iraqi military blamed the Dec. 20 attack on an “outlaw group.”

But U.S. officials blame Iran-backed militia for regular rocket attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq, including near the embassy in Baghdad. No known Iran-backed groups have claimed responsibility.

The senior administration official said the aim of the White House meeting was “to develop the right set of options that we could present to the president to make sure that we deter the Iranians and Shia militias in Iraq from conducting attacks on our personnel.”

An array of militia groups announced in October that they had suspended rocket attacks on U.S. forces on condition that Iraq’s government present a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.

But a rocket strike on the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 18 was a clear sign that Iranian-backed militias had decided to resume attacks on U.S. bases, according to Iraqi security officials.

Washington, which is slowly reducing its 5,000 troops in Iraq, threatened to shut its embassy unless the Iraqi government reins in Iran-aligned militias.

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