Biden's Irrational Reprisals in Iraq and Syria

The Biden administration is recklessly putting U.S. forces in Iraq in greater danger while pretending to be doing the opposite.

The leader of the Iraqi militia that the U.S. recently attacked has vowed to avenge his men killed in the latest “defensive” airstrikes:

The leader of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia has vowed to retaliate against America for the deaths of four of his men in a U.S. airstrike along the Iraq-Syria border last month, saying it will be a military operation everyone will talk about.

U.S. strikes on Iraqi militias are neither deescalatory nor defensive, and they do not “restore deterrence.” They are reprisals that invite retaliation and encourage further escalation. They also happen to be illegal. If you wish to deescalate, you do not respond to non-lethal attacks by killing people, but that is how the Biden administration has responded to attacks on bases in Iraq. This does not make Iraqi militias more quiescent. It predictably provokes them. The Trump administration had said that they would respond with strikes if Iraqi militias killed American soldiers, but the Biden administration has actually lowered the bar for taking lethal action against Iraqi militias:

“We have a responsibility to demonstrate that attacking Americans carries consequences, and that is true whether or not those attacks inflict casualties,” said a senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy matters. “If you attack us, we are going to respond.”

Now the leader of an Iraqi militia is threatening reprisals for the reprisal attack that the U.S. carried out against his men. As long as the Biden administration is intent on responding to any Iraqi militia attack with one of their own, you have a recipe for endless tit-for-tat strikes that build towards a larger conflict. If the U.S. will respond to any attack the same way no matter whether it is lethal or not, that will give Iraqi militias an incentive to carry out lethal attacks. The Biden administration is recklessly putting U.S. forces in Iraq in greater danger while pretending to be doing the opposite.

All of this raises the obvious question: why are U.S. forces still in Iraq in 2021? What purpose do they serve there except to get shot at and possibly blown up by suicide drones? As long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq, they will face attacks from at least some Iraqi militias, so why should they be put in that position when there are no vital U.S. interests at stake? Perhaps the more important question to ask is why the U.S. is still fighting and killing Iraqis more than thirty years after the start of Operation Desert Storm. No one pretends that Iraqi militias threaten the United States or our allies. The U.S. has no reason to continue killing Iraqis, and the cause of the current conflict is the continued U.S. military presence in a country where we are no longer wanted. The U.S. is “defending” itself against the security forces of the government that it claims to support because its military presence is no longer welcome and it has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of the host country. It is long past time that we stopped this absurdity and brought all U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria home.