Iran-backed Storming of U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Tests Washington Partisanship

New Year in Iraq Marked with Chaos as Tehran Poses New Challenges

A crisis in Iraq has reached the gates of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and presented a critical test of the administration’s resolve in confronting Iranian-orchestrated provocations. With Washington still mired in hyper-partisanship amid the ongoing impeachment campaign, congressional reaction has been split between Republican Senators urging the President to show strength and Democratic calls for de-escalation.  
 
AN EVOLVING CRISIS
 
The crisis now reaching a head outside the U.S. embassy in Baghdad began on December 27 when pro-Iranian militias launched a rocket attack on the Iraqi military’s K1 base near Kirkuk. One American civilian contractor was killed in the barrage, along with two Iraqi police, and several American and Iraqi military personnel were wounded. The markings on the rockets — identical to those used by Lebanese Hezbollah and intercepted by Israel in 2009 —  soon drew American officials’ eyes to Kata’ib Hezbollah, known for its close links to Iran.
 
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iranian-backed forces of complicity in a series of attacks on bases in Iraq and warned that future provocations would be "answered with a decisive U.S. response." Last weekend, the U.S. response arrived in the form of a series of airstrikes targeting five Kata’ib Hezbollah bases: three of the militia's facilities in Iraq and two in Syria. According to Jonathan Hoffman, an assistant to the secretary of defense, the targets struck "included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations.” According to early reports, at least 24 were killed and 55 wounded.
 
To judge by the swiftness and severity of the response by Iran’s Iraqi allies, this was a painful blow. “Our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq,” militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, said on Sunday. And indeed, by Tuesday, protesters waving Kata’ib Hezbollah flags attempted to storm the US embassy in Baghdad. By all accounts, the protesters failed to breach the heavily fortified compound, and were driven back by tear gas. President Trump, meanwhile, ordered the deployment of 100 Marines to fortify the embassy against future assaults.
 
REPUBLICANS COUNSEL RESOLVE, DEMOCRATS URGE DE-ESCALATION
 
As the militia members gathered outside the American embassy, Trump offered no concessions, declaring, “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible.” He later added that for those Iraqis “who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!”
 
A diverse range of Republicans publicly declared their support for the President’s course of action and urged resolve. Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading voice in foreign policy, announced that he was “very proud of President Donald Trump acting decisively in the face of threats to our embassy in Baghdad. He has put the world on notice — there will be no Benghazis on his watch.” For his part, the often Trump-skeptical Senator Romney stated emphatically that the onus for the crisis lay on Tehran’s shoulders: “The militia attack on our embassy is further evidence that Iran is increasing its provocation & destabilizing actions. Iraq must take responsibility to help defend our embassy. Iran must feel the condemnation of every civilized nation & our sanctions on Iran must tighten further.”
 
On the other side of the aisle, the response was more muted. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tweeted that she was “watching the situation in Baghdad closely,” and that “escalation and violence must end.” Other Democrats were less circumspect. Senator Chris Coons announced, “The attack on our embassy in Baghdad is horrifying but predictable. Trump has rendered America impotent in the Middle East. No one fears us, no one listens to us.” Others gave voice to the fears of the anti-war Left. Senator Markey, for one, opined, “This admin‘s failed Iran policy and Trump’s capriciousness have devolved to provocation. We cannot allow Trump and his hawkish advisers to drag us into a larger conflict. If President Trump wants to use force against Iran or its proxies, he needs Congressional authorization.”