US ‘outraged’ at Iraq rocket attacks, but won’t ‘lash out,’ State Department says

The United States is “outraged” by recent rocket attacks in Iraq but will not “lash out” in response, a State Department spokesman said Monday.

“We are outraged by the recent attacks,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing.

“When it comes to our response, we will respond in a way that is calculated, within our own timetable, and using a mix of tools at a time and place of our choosing, as you’ve heard me say before,” he added. “What will not do is lash out and risk an escalation that plays into the hands of Iran and contributes to their attempts to further destabilize Iraq.”

Price was speaking after Iraqi officials reported Monday that two rockets landed in the Green Zone, the heavily guarded area of Baghdad that houses government buildings and foreign embassies. Iraqi security officials told The Associated Press the target was the U.S. Embassy.

No injuries or deaths have been reported from the attack, which also included a third rocket that landed in the al-Harithiya district, according to Iraq’s Security Media Cell. Some minor property damage was reported, including to four civilian vehicles, the cell said.

The attack marked the third rocket strike near U.S. interests in Iraq in a week, including one in Erbil that killed a non-American contractor working with U.S. forces and injured nine people, including six Americans.

In addition, a rocket strike at an Iraqi military base over the weekend injured one person. The base is home to a U.S. defense company that supports Iraq’s F-16 program.

A Shiite militia group known to have ties to Iran claimed responsibility for the Erbil attack. But the Biden administration has so far refrained from directly blaming Iran, with which it is hoping to restore and strengthen the 2015 nuclear deal.

On Monday, both the Pentagon and State Department declined to attribute the attacks to a specific group, saying Iraqi-led investigations are ongoing.

But Price highlighted that the Erbil attack used rockets that were “Iranian-made and Iranian-supplied.”

“We have stated before that we will hold Iran responsible for the actions of its proxies that attack Americans,” he added, stressing that any response “will be done in coordination with our Iraqi partners and in coordination with the coalition as well.”

While similarly declining to attribute the recent attacks, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby alluded to past attacks from Iran-backed Shiite militias and said “it’s difficult to say with certainty … whether there is a strategic calculation driving this this recent uptick in attacks or whether this is just a continuation of the sorts of attacks we’ve seen in the past.”

The Biden administration’s response stands in contrast to that of the Trump administration, which was quick to blame Tehran for similar rocket attacks.

In response to a late 2019 rocket strike that killed a U.S. contractor, the Trump administration struck the Iran-backed militia it said was responsible, setting off an escalation cycle that included the U.S. strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iranian strike on an Iraqi base that injured more than 100 U.S. troops.

Kirby sidestepped a question Monday on whether killing an American is a red line for the Biden administration but said the administration has been “perfectly clear our views about the malign activities that Iran continues to perpetrate throughout their region.”

He also stressed that U.S. military commanders have the right of self-defense against “dangerous attacks.”

“We take these attacks very seriously,” Kirby said “And as the president himself noted, if and when it’s appropriate to respond, we’ll do so at a time and a place and in a manner of our choosing and certainly in consultation with our Iraqi partners.”

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