WASHINGTON – President Trump warned Iran on Wednesday that he would blame “if an American is killed” in rocket attacks in Iraq that the Trump administration and military officials attributed to Tehran.
On a Twitter post After a meeting with senior officials at the White House, Trump said Iran was behind the rocket attacks on the American embassy in Baghdad on Sunday. “Some friendly health advice for Iran,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “If an American is killed, I will hold Iran accountable. Think about it. “
His post was followed by a statement from the United States Central Command, which classified Sunday’s attacks as the biggest in a decade. “The December 20, 2020 rocket attack in Iraq’s green zone was almost certainly conducted by an Iranian-backed rebel militia group,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for Central Command, said in a statement. He added that the 21 rocket attack “clearly was NOT intended to prevent casualties”.
The attack killed at least one Iraqi civilian and damaged the embassy complex. This increases growing tensions between the United States and Iran in the last days of Trump’s presidency. Last month, the president was dissuaded from attacking Iran after his advisers warned that the conflict could turn into a broader conflict in his final weeks in office.
In these discussions, Trump addressed the idea of attacking Iran to force it to stop expanding its nuclear program. Such an attack would be a significant blow to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who wants to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the achievement of the Obama administration’s foreign policy from which Trump withdrew in 2018. The strike on the eve of a new government could poison relations with Tehran so much that it would be impossible to revive the agreement.
An attack in retaliation for rocket attacks in Iraq could also damage future relations, although probably not as much as an attack on an Iranian nuclear facility, a Defense Department official said. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the White House meeting was private, said the decision coming from that meeting on Wednesday was to stick to severe verbal warnings for now.
Since Trump dismissed Mark T. Esper as his defense secretary last month, along with other top Pentagon advisers, the Department of Defense and other national security officials have expressed particular concern that the president may start operations, secret or open , against Iran and other opponents at the end of his term.
Officials say a strike may be inevitable if an American is killed before the day of the inauguration. Authorities are especially nervous about the January 3 anniversary of the American attack that killed General Qassim Suleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Iraqi leader of an Iran-backed militia – deaths that Iranian leaders regularly insist that they have not yet succeeded.
In Iraq, rocket attacks that the United States has long said are linked to Iran are common. But Pentagon officials fear that any increase in these attacks could give Trump a reason to retaliate. “The United States will hold Iran responsible for the deaths of any American resulting from the work” of Iranian-supported militias, the Central Command statement said.
In the past two weeks, Central Command flew B-52 bombers in the region in a show of strength, sent an extra fighter squadron to Saudi Arabia, kept the Nimitz aircraft carrier in the area and announced that it would send a Tomahawk firing submarine. All of these measures, military officials said, are in the name of deterrence.
Eric Schmitt contributed reports.