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US forces suffer attacks in Middle East as America faces dilemma

US forces suffer attacks in Middle East as America faces dilemma

A defective drone in Iraq may have helped keep America from being dragged deeper into a widening Middle East conflict.

The drone, which was launched at the Erbil air base by an Iranian-backed militia before sunrise on Oct. 26, penetrated U.S. air defenses and crashed into the second floor of the barracks housing American troops at about 5 a.m, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

But the device laden with explosives failed to detonate and in the end only one service member suffered a concussion from the impact, said the officials, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about the attack. The U.S. had got lucky, they added, as the drone could have caused carnage had it exploded.

The incident was among at least 40 separate drone and rocket attacks that have been launched at U.S. forces by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria over the past three weeks in response to American support for Israel in the Gaza war, according to Pentagon data and the two U.S. officials.

The bombardment has only caused a few dozen minor injuries so far, with many of the rockets and one-way attack drones intercepted by U.S. air defenses in Iraq and Syria, where a total of 3,400 American troops are based.

David Schenker, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think-tank, cautioned that while neither Iran and its allied groups nor the U.S. appeared to want a direct confrontation, the risks were growing. The possibility of a major strike that draws America into a conflict is “a very realistic concern,” he said.

“I think they are calibrating the attacks to harass rather than kill en masse U.S. troops,” he said of Iraqi and Syrian militias. “But there’s a lot more they can do.”

It’s unclear how President Joe Biden would respond to a major attack that kills a large number of Americans. Struggling in opinion polls ahead of next year’s presidential election, Biden has so far sought to limit the U.S. role in the conflict mostly to ensuring military aid to Israel.

The war broke out when gunmen from Hamas group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza – burst into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking more than 240 hostages. Since then, Israel has bombarded the coastal territory relentlessly, killing more than 10,000 people, many of them children.

Iran says it had no role in Hamas’ Oct. 7 raid on Israel, though it has welcomed the attack.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Iraq – where most of the attacks on U.S. forces have taken place – to push Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani to crack down on the militias operating there and avert any escalation.

Yet Sudani has had little luck in persuading the militia groups from letting up their assault, or convincing their bankrollers in Iran to rein them in, according to five senior lawmakers in Sudani’s governing coalition, a security adviser to the premier and a militia commander.

The prime minister and around 10 senior members of his government met with the commanders of about a dozen militia groups in Baghdad on Oct. 23 to press the groups to halt their attacks on U.S. forces, said the seven people, who were either present or were briefed on the meeting.

The plea largely fell on deaf ears, though, with most of the commanders vowing to keep up their assault until Israeli forces ended their siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip, they added.

“No one – not the prime minister or anyone else – can stand against our religious duty,” said Ali Turki, a Shi’ite lawmaker in the governing coalition as well as a commander with the powerful Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia.

Arif al-Hamami, another Shi’ite lawmaker, said the prospects for diplomacy looked bleak: “I don’t think that the prime minister has the power to stop the attacks as long as Israel is committing atrocities in Gaza with American help.”

The Iraqi and Iranian governments didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the militia attacks and the risk of escalation.

 

Reuters

 

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