WASHINGTON – President Trump warned Iran on Wednesday that he would hold himself responsible “if an American is killed” in rocket attacks in Iraq, which the Trump administration and military officials accused Tehran of.
In a Twitter posts which came after a meeting with senior White House officials, Mr Trump said Iran was behind rocket attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Sunday. “Some friendly health advice for Iran,” Sir. Trump tweeted. “If an American is killed, I will hold Iran accountable. Think about it.”
His position was followed by a statement from the United States Central Command calling Sunday’s attacks the largest in a decade. “On December 20, 2020, rocket attacks on the green zone in Iraq were almost certainly carried out by an Iranian-backed villain militia group,” said Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for Central Command, in the statement. He added that the 21st rocket attack “was clearly NOT intended to avoid losses.”
The attack killed at least one Iraqi civilian and damaged the embassy connection. This adds to the growing tension between the United States and Iran in the waning days of Mr Trump’s presidency. Last month, the president was deterred from striking Iran after his aides warned it could escalate into a broader conflict in his final weeks in office.
In those discussions, Mr. Trump brought up the idea of attacking Iran to force it to stop growing its nuclear program. Such an attack would be a significant blow to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who wants to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the signed foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration, which Mr Trump withdrew from in 2018. such a strike before a new administration could poison the relationship with Tehran so much that it would be impossible to revive the agreement.
A strike in retaliation for rocket attacks in Iraq could also damage future relations, but probably not as much as a strike at an Iranian nuclear facility, a Defense Ministry official said. But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House meeting was private, said the decision that came from that meeting on Wednesday was to stick to strict verbal warnings so far.
Since Mr. Trump fired Mark T. Esper as his secretary of defense last month along with other top Pentagon aides, the Department of Defense and other national security officials have privately expressed concern that the president may launch operations, whether secret or overt, against Iran and other opponents at the end of his term.
Officials say a strike could be inevitable if Americans are killed before inauguration day. Officials have been particularly nervous about the January 3 anniversary of the US strike that killed Major General Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force from the Islamic Revolutionary Corps, and the Iraqi leader of an Iranian-backed militia – deaths that Iranian leaders regularly insists they have not yet retaliated.
In Iraq, rocket attacks, as the United States has long said, are linked to Iran. But Pentagon officials are concerned that any recovery in such attacks could give Mr. Trump a reason to retaliate. “The United States will hold Iran accountable for the deaths of the Americans as a result of the work” of Iranian-backed militias, the Central Command statement said.
For the past two weeks, Central Command has flown B-52 bombers in the region in a power show, sent an extra squadron of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, kept the aircraft carrier Nimitz in the area and announced that it is sending a Tomahawk-fired submarine. All of these measures, military officials said, are in the name of deterrence.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.