Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Sunday amid a spate of attacks on US troops in the region over US support for Israel’s onslaught on Gaza.
US forces in Iraq and Syria have come under attack 32 times, including a drone launched at a base in Syria that was reported on Sunday. The US launched airstrikes in eastern Syria on October 27 to “deter” future attacks, but the strategy has clearly failed.
“I made very clear that attacks or threats coming from militias that are aligned with Iran are totally unacceptable, and we will take every necessary step to protect our people,” Blinken said in Iraq, according to AFP.
Blinken met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and thanked him for condemning the attacks on US troops. Blinken said al-Sudani is “working with his own security forces and others to take necessary action … to seek to prevent them.”
Many of the Shia militias and political factions in Iraq are strongly opposed to the US presence in the country and have been pushing for it to end since the US killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a January 2020 drone strike in Baghdad. Soleimani was killed alongside Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who led the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of Iraqi militias that was formed in 2014 to fight ISIS.
In the wake of the killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, Iraq’s parliament voted to expel US troops, and Iraqi prime ministers have been under pressure to do so ever since. In an effort to placate anti-US factions, the US formally changed its presence in Iraq from a combat role to an advisory role in December 2021. But the US did not withdraw any troops at the time and still has 2,500 in the country today.
A group that calls itself the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has taken credit for many of the attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria. The US has not been attributing them to a specific group and is saying Iran is ultimately responsible due to its support for the Shia militias, but there’s been no evidence showing Tehran is directing the attacks.