February 19, 2021

Middle East policy

“The Biden administration on Thursday rescinded former president Donald Trump’s restoration of U.N. sanctions on Iran… Biden has said the United States wants to rejoin the [Iran deal] and the State Department said Thursday the U.S. would accept an invitation from the European Union to attend a meeting of the participants in the original agreement -- Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran.” AP News

“A rocket attack at a U.S.-led military base in Kurdish northern Iraq on Monday killed a civilian contractor and wounded five other people including a U.S. service member… A group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed responsibility for the attack on the U.S.-led base, saying it targeted the ‘American occupation’ in Iraq.” Reuters

“NATO defence ministers at a meeting on Thursday made no decision on whether or when to pull out of Afghanistan, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.” Reuters

Read our most recent coverage of the Iran nuclear deal here. The Flip Side

Many on both sides blame Iran for the attack in Iraq and call for a response from Biden:

“This was only the latest attack claimed by a group named Saraya Awliya al-Dam, which translates roughly to Guardians of the Blood Brigade. But there’s overwhelming evidence this is a front group for the well-known and powerful Iraqi militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), which has strong and well-established ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah…

“The Iranian government denied it ordered the attack, and it is certainly possible AAH was freelancing, but it doesn’t matter, said [Washington Institute for Near East Policy scholar Michael] Knights. Iran has influence over its proxies, and it could choose to restrain them. The attack showed that Iranian leaders, at the very least, are sitting on their hands… The Biden team claims to have learned from Obama-era mistakes. With Iran, that means pursuing diplomacy without turning a blind eye to the IRGC’s mischief in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere… If Iranian proxies feel they can attack U.S. troops without consequence, it won’t be long before the next and more deadly strike. That could spark the very escalation and conflict the Biden administration is rightly trying to avoid.”
Josh Rogin, Washington Post

“This is a key test of the Biden administration: If the United States reacts with words alone, the Biden administration will show the Iranians that such attacks are cost-free. The only lesson that Iran’s leaders will learn from such a response is that the Biden administration’s desire to return to nuclear diplomacy will permit Iran to put American lives at risk whenever it wishes…

“The Biden administration should instead adopt a policy of deterrence, warning Iran that it will be held accountable directly… The United States has a multitude of military options, some of which would clearly signal to Iran that we have no wish to escalate into a larger conflict — but that we insist the Iranian regime stop trying to kill Americans — or else. That’s the message the Biden administration should be sending this week.”
Elliott Abrams, National Review

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