Airstrike in Syria faces pushback from Democrats

Rodiano Bonacci
Febbraio 27, 2021

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he is "confident" the USA hit back at the "same Shia militants that conducted the strikes", referring to the fatal February 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq. "The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks-the facilities are utilized by KSS and KH-and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks".

"We see these attacks as attacks on the Iraqi government", Hussein said in a recent interview with The New York Times, referring to attacks on the U.S. Embassy and other American targets.

In Paris, a foreign ministry source said France strongly condemns the "unacceptable" rocket attacks on coalition forces in Iraq and "stands firmly alongside its American ally". In a statement, it said the Biden administration "is supposed to stick to worldwide legitimacy, not to the law of the jungle as [did] the previous administration". Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the US response a "necessary deterrent" to tell Iran that attacks on USA interests "will not be tolerated", reports CNN.

Tehran has not signaled whether it will respond militarily to the USA action, though militia leaders in Iraq have vowed to retaliate for the attack.

Biden administration officials soon found themselves defending the strike's legality.

John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the airstrike targeting the two militias was meant to limit the group's capability of launching future attacks and send a "clear message" that the United States will protect its citizens.

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and his Senate counterpart Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., also voiced support. All of these groups have received at least some financing, support and weaponry from Iran over the years, and all share its ideology of "resistance", or the struggle against Israel and US interests in the region.

In Washington, some Democrats were critical of Biden's decision to carry out an airstrike in Syria without first briefing Congress on the legal rationale, saying it wasn't clear the attack was authorized under existing authorization for using force. Biden's decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to widen US military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will to defend USA troops in Iraq and send a message to Iran.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he wants to know more about the strikes and why Congress wasn't notified prior to the attacks.

"As a matter of domestic law, the president took this action, pursuant to his Article II authority to defend US personnel", Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters. "As a matter of worldwide law, the United States acted pursuant to its right of self defense, as reflected in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter".

Iraqi militiamen march and chant anti-US slogans while carrying a picture of Qassem Soleimani, left and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq, days after their assassination, Baghdad, Iraq, January 4, 2020.

Iran is believed to be searching for an opportunity to avenge the United States assassination of top general Qasem Soleimani early a year ago.

A ceasefire declared in September by Kataeb Hezbollah and other factions largely held until Biden's inauguration, but "it's not ideal", said Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at the London-based Chatham House think tank. "The Popular Mobilization Forces are not a monolithic organization".

Sabereen News, a channel affiliated with Iran-supported groups, posted images of some of the structures destroyed in the attack, which it said were used by the groups to stop the flow of Islamic State members into Iraq. While the exact death toll remained unclear, Biden appears to have calibrated the strikes, hoping they would cause enough damage to show that the United States would not allow rocket attacks like that on the Irbil airport in northern Iraq on February 15, but not so much as to risk setting off a wider conflagration.

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