With coronavirus pandemic dominating the world's attention, it's easy to forget that the US is essentially in a state of war with Iran, just Thursday night conducting a major aerial bombing campaign against multiple Iran-backed militia targets across southern Iraq.
In response to prior rocket attacks on Camp Taji which killed two Americans on Wednesday the Pentagon declared that “all options are on the table” — suggesting there could be more strikes to come. The Pentagon said it initiated a "proportional" response against five Kata'ib Hezbollah weapons facilities.
Iraq's government immediately condemned the attacks as not only unauthorized violations of its airspace, but as having killed and wounded several Iraqi security force personnel.
Top US forces general in the region, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, brushed Baghdad's condemnation aside, essentially saying it was Iraqi forces' fault for being there. Many officers in the Iraqi Army essentially see Khatib Hezbollah as a de facto extension of national forces.
Iraq condemned overnight U.S. air strikes on Friday, saying they killed six people and warning of dangerous consequences for what it called a violation of sovereignty and targeted aggression against the nation’s regular armed forces.
The foreign ministry further summoned the US and UK ambassadors following the attacks. But the Pentagon is not backing down.
"These locations that we struck are clear locations of terrorist bases," McKenzie said Friday. When asked about Iraq's fierce response, he said, "If Iraqi military forces are there, I would say it's probably not a good idea to position yourself with Khatib Hezbollah in the wake of a strike that killed Americans and Coalition members."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is moving Patriot air defense missile systems into Iraq to better defensed US personnel against any potential Iranian strike, even at a moment when Tehran's real focus remains on combating the deadlier Covid-19 outbreak in its midst.
It was also reported Friday that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has agreed to keep two aircraft carriers in the Gulf region “for a period of time”. They've been identified as the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Harry S. Truman.
The US rarely maintains two carriers there, with the last instance coming about eight years ago, in 2012.