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US wrestling with how to respond to rising, bolder attacks on Americans in Iraq

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A picture taken on March 13, 2020 shows destruction at Karbala airport in the Iraqi holy city, one of the areas targeted by US military air strikes against Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units following the deaths of two Americans and a Briton in a rocket attack the previous night on a US base in Taji. (Photo by AFP)

US official are expressing serious concerns about persisting attacks on American military and diplomatic compounds in Iraq and receiving “near-daily reports” of “imminent” attacks on such facilities, a report has unveiled.

“Militias are becoming more audacious in attacking US personnel in Iraq, with rocket strikes against military bases occurring more frequently and, for the first time, in broad daylight,” The Washington Post reported Saturday quoting American officials that spoke on the condition of anonymity, alleging  -- without any evidence -- that the attacks have been perpetrated by “Iran-backed” groups.

The report then points out that the question of how to deter future attacks against US targets in the war-torn country without putting troops at greater risk “highlights how much American security and influence have evaporated in Iraq.”

According to the daily, in the two weeks since US forces conducted bombing raids against Iraqi army’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) just outside the nation’s capital of Baghdad to avenge a rocket attack on the US-occupied Taji military base that killed a Briton and two Americans, “the Trump administration has been wrestling with what additional steps to take to confront the militias without sparking costly retaliation.”

The report then goes on to underline Washington’s inability to make Iraqi authorities to track down and prosecute those responsible for the rocket attacks against US facilities in the country, pointing out that American air raids on PMU forces were instead censured by the Iraqi army as “treacherous” as militia groups opposing US military presence in Iraq vowed further attacks on American installations in their nation.

Since the US strikes, there have been at least four more rocket attacks around American military and diplomatic compounds as officials in Washington express concerns that it is only a matter of time before more US troops are killed or wounded.

Moreover, the daily further points to what one military official described as “a lot of chatter about” further militia attacks that indicates the Trump administration is struggling to calibrate its potential response.

It then lists potential US strike targets as bases of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps inside Iran and in Syria, noting however that such targets “were swiftly dismissed as likely to prompt greater escalation,” citing two individuals familiar with the decision-making in Washington that spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Yet another US consideration may be the level of confidence it has in identifying who is behind a particular attack, according to the daily, which emphasized that after the rocket attack on Camp Taji Britain refused to join the American retaliatory bombing raids “because it did not believe the evidence provided by the Americans met the legal threshold to justify a strike” against Iraq’s PMU forces.

“The prospect of more militia violence is already influencing the US posture in Iraq,” the report further underlined, quoting officials as adding that more US air defense equipment and personnel have been deployed to Iraq, including new air defenses such as C-RAMs and Patriot missile batteries, expected to be in place in the next week or two.

Meanwhile, with the growing militia threats to US-allied foreign troops in Iraq, hundreds of coalition personnel have shifted out of smaller military outposts in recent weeks, relocating to larger facilities in Iraq or heading to Syria and Kuwait, according to the paper.

“At the same time, the Iraqi government’s suspension of joint training due to the covid-19 crisis has prompted the US to withdraw some military trainers from Iraq.”

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