Iranian Attack Kills Americans

If a global pandemic and economic crisis weren't enough excitement . . . .

Iran has once again attacked American troops in Iraq, setting the stage for a dramatic escalation in the conflict:

Jack Detsch for al-Monitor (“Multiple US troops dead in Iraq after rocket strike“):

Two Americans and one British servicemember were killed in a rocket attack on Iraq’s Camp Taji base, just north of Baghdad, a security source confirmed to Al-Monitor. One American contractor was among the dead in the attack that took place at around 8 p.m. local time March 11, the source said.

US forces in Iraq quickly located a truck that had the capability to fire 36 Katyushas near the base. Pictures of vehicles carrying the Soviet-era rocket artillery system surfaced on Twitter in the hours after the attack.

Camp Taji was not targeted during the Jan. 8 Iranian ballistic missile attack that left more than 100 US service members with mild traumatic brain injuries. The news came amid reports of several strikes against Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps units along Iraq’s border with Syria.

Wednesday’s attack could spark a response from the Donald Trump administration, as the commander in chief has previously pledged that the death of American servicemembers or personnel could trigger a US military reaction.

President Trump, flanked by top military officials, insisted in a White House speech in January after the ballistic missile attacks that Iran appeared “to be standing down” after a 12-day spell that saw an American contractor killed and US retaliation that began with strikes on military caches of Iran-backed groups.

But experts insist that Iran was never likely to stand down for long after a Pentagon drone strike took out Iranian Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani, whom US officials credited with extending Iran’s paramilitary reach into Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Soleimani would have turned 63 today.

“Iran was never going to sit back after the Soleimani episode, and folks who said it was over were jumping the gun,” said Ariane Tabatabai, an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation. “So, if this is them, then it was to be expected.”

The scope and lethality of Wednesday’s attacks could indicate that Iran has further extended its willingness to escalate the ongoing tit-for-tat with the United States. “Seems in line with their modus operandi, but they appear more willing to inflict casualties, which was seen as a red line for a while,” Tabatabai added.

Congress has passed a resolution limiting Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran.

It will now be sent to the White House, where Trump is expected to veto it. Congress is not expected to have enough votes to override a presidential veto. Although it is unlikely to become law, passage of the resolution by both chambers represents a significant rebuke to the President and highlights congressional support for efforts to check the executive branch’s war-making powers.

The President warned the Senate not to green-light the measure last month ahead of its passage, tweeting, “It is very important for our country’s security that the United States Senate not vote for the Iran War Powers Resolution,” and adding, “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day.”

The resolution “directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force against Iran.”

It includes a provision ensuring the President would still be able to defend the United States from “imminent attack” absent congressional approval.

That a Republican-majority Senate passed this—and some Republican Representatives voted for it—is remarkable given the times. But, as noted, there aren’t enough votes to override a Trump veto. And, frankly, even if there were, there’s no reason to think the President would feel constrained by mere law. What are they going to do, impeach him again?

FILED UNDER: Iran, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What are they going to do, impeach him again?

    Nah, they’ll sue him. Take it all the way to the Supreme Court. Where the conservatives will say, “S’all OK.”

    6
  2. Scott says:

    There is so much we don’t understand in this region. For one, it is just assumed that Iran is behind this. But there was no evidence (nor did any other articles state so). It may be a good assumption but there are so many other bad actors in the region include ISIS which was involved in the deaths of 2 other servicemen a couple of days ago.

    Right now, it is the Iraqi military that is investigating. This is an Iraqi base housing coalition troops. Americans may not even have been the target but just collateral damage.

    What would Iran’s motives be other than poking us when we’re down and preoccupied. Well, to distract from their own Coronavirus epidemic.

    When we can’t pinpoint the enemy on a day to day basis and don’t understand all the players and motivations, it is not a good thing and may be an indication that we shouldn’t be playing at all.

    7
  3. mattbernius says:

    @Scott:

    What would Iran’s motives be other than poking us when we’re down and preoccupied. Well, to distract from their own Coronavirus epidemic.

    That and extracting revenge for the Soleimani episode.

    Honestly this is a really scary situation. Iran’s government is in bad shape over COVID-19 — including a not-insignificant number of higher ranking government officials who have come down with the virus. So they are stretched thin and may not have as many safety guards in place as usual.

    And clearly our government is distracted.

    Last time it took a single American death to trigger drastic action. Now, who knows.

    1
  4. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Actually a British guy died too but he’s just a foreigner so he doesn’t count when there are (gasp) American casualties to point at. Any Iraqis died or are they too sub-human to even notice?

    Seriously, are we at war with Iran or not? We’ve tippy-toed up to the line of making it official without going over it, but if we’re going to lob missiles at their facilities then they’re going to lob missiles at facilities where “our boys” can be hurt. Welcome to the 21st century; it’s going to be a bad century for comfortable mythologies.

    4
  5. James Joyner says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Actually a British guy died too but he’s just a foreigner so he doesn’t count when there are (gasp) American casualties to point at. Any Iraqis died or are they too sub-human to even notice?

    Aside from this site having a primarily American audience, the significance of Americans being killed is that President Trump is much more likely to escalate the military response than if it had only been Brits or Iraqis killed.

    3
  6. Kathy says:

    My advice: Just because they’re having a war doesn’t mean you have to come.

    2
  7. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Trump isn’t going to escalate s**t. He does it occasionally to show he’s a tough guy but there’s no structured plan behind anything he does. He probably doesn’t even know it happened yet – he’s melting down over coronavirus screwups.

    Who was it said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”?

    That guy was a president. That guy was a leader. That guy was an American. What we’ve got now in the WH is none of these things.

    3
  8. James Joyner says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Trump isn’t going to escalate s**t. He does it occasionally to show he’s a tough guy but there’s no structured plan behind anything he does. He probably doesn’t even know it happened yet – he’s melting down over coronavirus screwups.

    Which is why he may well escalate—to show that he’s “tough” and to distract from the 24/7 focus on the pandemic.

    3
  9. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    Which is why he may well escalate—to show that he’s “tough” and to distract from the 24/7 focus on the pandemic.

    Honestly, that’s my concern too. And all of the “safety check” staff around him have largely been removed and replaced with ideologues and loyalists from Ginny Thomas’s group. And a lot of those folks are dyed in the wool Iran hawks.

  10. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    Sending troops to a COVID19 hot zone strikes me as the worst way of distracting attention from the COVID19 outbreak at home, even for Trump.

  11. Erik says:

    @Kathy: that’s silly. Why would Trump consider a second order effect of his decision?

    1
  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ll put my money on Trump doing nothing and pretending this didn’t happen. He doesn’t have a tenth of the bandwidth to deal with the existing messes, I have a hard time seeing him gearing up for anything more than a pro forma, tit-for-tat retaliation.

    1
  13. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    That’s my hope to. As we have seen in the past, for all his sins, Trump has historically been a rhetorical hawk and in practice pretty reluctant to actually use force. I’m hoping that’s the Trump we get now.

  14. mattbernius says: