State Dept. Sidesteps ‘Hypothetical’ About Alleged Iranian Involvement in Iraq Drone Attack

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An Iranian Army photo posted last September shows a missile carried by a Simorgh drone. (Photo by Iranian Army office/AFP via Getty Images)

An Iranian Army photo posted last September shows a missile carried by a Simorgh drone. (Photo by Iranian Army office/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The Biden administration strongly condemned Sunday’s drone attack targeting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, but amid claims that Iranian proxy militias were responsible, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to “engage in a hypothetical about who may or may not be responsible.”

Price was asked on Monday if Iranian involvement in the attack could “impact other negotiations” with the regime – a reference to the administration’s attempts to return to the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

He acknowledged that “we have seen a number of aggressive actions conducted by Iran-backed groups, including in Iraq,” but said the U.S. would wait for the outcome of Iraqi government-led investigations.

 

Reuters reported earlier that two Iraqi security officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the drone attack was carried out by Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.

Supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, the two are the most notorious Shi’ite militias in Iraq. They rejected the outcome of national elections last month in which their political faction saw a significant collapse in support.

Both are U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, with histories of lethal attacks against U.S. military personnel during the Iraq War.

The Iranian regime and the militias earlier insinuated that the U.S. was behind the attack.

Kadhimi escaped unhurt when an explosive-laden drone struck his residence in Baghdad’s Green Zone, although six members of his bodyguard were injured. Iraqi security forces say they shot down two more of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

A reporter at the State Department briefing pointed out that the attackers had used drones, “and the only militias that have drones are the one who trained and supplied by Iran.”

Price confirmed that the U.S. has expressed concern about the spread of drone technology capabilities in the region, “some of it Iranian,” and just days ago had designated for sanctions individuals and companies responsible for proliferating and using the technology, “some of which is of Iranian origin.”

The targets of the recently announced U.S. Treasury Department sanctions are exclusively Iranian – two IRGC brigadier generals, two Iran-based companies that work with the IRGC UAV program, and two Iranian individuals linked to the companies.

The department said the IRGC Qods Force has provided lethal drones to proxies including Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Houthis in Yemen – as well as to Ethiopian forces engaged in that country’s ongoing civil war.

President Biden said on Sunday that he had “instructed my national security team to offer all appropriate assistance to Iraq’s security forces as they investigate this attack and identify those responsible.”

Price said on Monday the U.S. was deferring to the Iraqis but stood ready to help “should they request our assistance.”

“Before we speak about a response, we will let the Iraqi investigation proceed. We will continue to consult closely with our Iraqi partners,” he said. “If they determine that they have any needs that their own capacities and capabilities leave unmet, we are happy to provide that assistance and together we will chart the next steps.”

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said he was unaware of the Department of Defense having received any request from the Iraqi government for help.

The incident occurred three weeks before talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the U.S. and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear accord, are scheduled to resume – after a five-month hiatus linked initially to the June presidential election in Iran.

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) in a series of tweets called the attack on Kadhimi “a dramatic escalation by an Iranian regime emboldened by 10 [months] of Biden’s appeasement.”

“While Iran steps up attacks, Biden still hopes to give the mullahs billions in sanctions relief & revive the failed Iran nuclear deal,” said Hagerty, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Biden’s response to Iran’s aggression should be to end the farce of the nuclear talks & go back to a maximum pressure approach without delay.”

Hagerty also pointed out that the attack in Baghdad came 15 days after U.S. troops in eastern Syria were targeted with drones – suspected to have been provided by Iran – carrying explosive charges.

“The IRGC & their proxy militias believe they can step up attacks against us and our allies because they perceive Biden is weak,” he said.

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