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Top commander: Destabilizing actions by Iran up 'in scope and severity'

Top commander: Destabilizing actions by Iran up 'in scope and severity'
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Destabilizing actions by Iran have continued and “increased in scope and severity” since last year, according to the top U.S. commander in the Middle East.

But even with a step up in severe attacks — the most recent being a Tuesday rocket strike in the green zone of Iraq’s capital — U.S. deterrence against Tehran is working, U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie said during a virtual conference on Thursday.

“Today I believe Iran has been largely deterred because the regime now understands we possess both the capability and the will to respond,” McKenzie said. 

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“I believe the Iranian regime recognizes if they get into an escalatory spiral with the United States, it will not end well for them. ... So that’s why we’ve seen a recent decline in these tensions at sea, and attacks against us in Iraq and in other places.” 

Tensions between the United States and Iran nearly boiled over in January when President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE ordered a Baghdad drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Tehran responded by launching a missile attack on an Iraqi airbase housing U.S. troops, resulting in more than 100 U.S. service members suffering from traumatic brain injuries. 

Since then, several Iran-backed rocket attacks have been aimed at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops, including one in September in northern Iraq. 

McKenzie did caution that periods of decreased tension “may provide the illusion of a return to normalcy,” but the Iranian regime will continue to try to find ways to harm the United States.

He also said U.S forces will remain in Iraq to continue the fight against ISIS militants, despite Iran’s hope to push U.S. troops from the country. An estimated 10,000 ISIS fighters still live in Iraq and Syria.

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“The government of Iraq has clearly indicated it wants to maintain its partnership with the United States and coalition forces as we continue and finish the fight against ISIS,” McKenzie said.

The United States has made major moves this year to withdraw its forces from Iraq, drawing down from roughly 5,200 troops to 3,000 in September, with an additional reduction of 500 announced Tuesday, to be completed by Jan. 15.

McKenzie did not mention the recent troop drawdowns or how the remaining forces would continue to deter Iran and ISIS from Iraq in its new, smaller number.