The largest congressional Republican caucus has issued a statement condemning what it calls President Joe Biden’s “dangerous” Iran strategy, as domestic conservatives and Tehran-skeptic foreign allies seek to undermine the White House’s plan to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.
The statement came just hours before the latest militant attack on American and allied forces in Iraq. Unidentified militants fired a rocket barrage at the Ain Al Asad airbase in western Iraq early on Wednesday, with early reports indicating that one civilian contractor had been killed.
Operation Inherent Resolve spokesperson Colonel Wayne Marotto issued a statement on Twitter with an initial report on the attack explaining that 10 rockets were fired at Al Asad at around 7:20 a.m. local time Wednesday. Iraqi special forces “are leading the response & investigation,” Marotto said.
AFP reported that one civilian contractor died of a heart attack during the attack. Neither the Iraqi nor American military have confirmed the report.
The barrage is the latest in a series of incidents in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks, as the Biden administration tries to deter militia attacks on American and allied targets while also pursuing a diplomatic thaw with Tehran to revive the JCPOA.
For Iran hawks in the U.S., the latest attacks are proof that Tehran cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith or respect any deal. Conservatives in Iran make the same argument about the U.S. citing former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the accord in 2018.
On Tuesday, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) published its official position on Iran, decrying the “failed Obama Iran nuclear deal” from which Trump withdrew, with GOP support. The former president’s “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions, diplomatic isolation and military action failed to push Tehran back to the negotiating table, but did choke Iran’s economy.
The RSC called for Biden to return to maximum pressure, though the strategy failed to achieve its stated goals. Iranian officials have complained that Biden’s refusal to lift American sanctions means that maximum pressure remains in effect.
“President Trump’s successful maximum pressure campaign on Iran led to real results including shrinking the Iranian defense budget by 25 percent and putting the Iranian economy in shambles,” the RSC paper said.
“Yet, while Iran is weaker than ever before, President Biden makes concessions up front to lift sanctions and return to a failed deal which is expiring in a few years.”
The Biden administration has signaled it is open to JCPOA talks, though Tehran has so far rebuffed such proposals. Biden also rescinded United Nations sanctions on Iran that Trump claimed to have reimposed last year, but that the UN Security Council and other JCPOA signatories had gone back into effect. The RSC said this move was “a dangerous mistake.”
“Sooner, rather than later, Republicans will be in the majority again,” the RSC wrote. “As the largest conservative caucus in Congress, we will defend former President Trump’s successful maximum pressure campaign on Iran.”
“We will fight against and work to reverse any and all sanctions relief for Iran unless and until the Iranian regime meets all twelve points laid out by former Secretary [Mike] Pompeo,” the RSC wrote, referring to a range of demands that Iran scale back its regional activities and nuclear program.
Iran’s use of proxy militias is a key grievance of Iran hawks. In Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen Tehran is training and arming groups that target the U.S. and its allies to apply pressure on the U.S. and undermine its strategic position, while avoiding dangerous escalation that could come from openly using Iranian troops.
Iran-backed militias have maintained their attacks despite the change in American administration, and hopes that Biden will return to compliance with the JCPOA and lift crippling U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Wednesday’s attack hit the same airbase targeted by Iranian ballistic missiles after the American assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani in January 2020. That attack wounded more than 100 American troops.
Last month, Biden’s administration launched its first attack on Iran-aligned Iraqi militias in retaliation for an earlier rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded several Americans. The U.S. struck militia fighters deployed in Syria close to its border with Iraq, reportedly killing as many as 22 people.
Hours before Wednesday’s attack in Iraq, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters the administration was hopeful its Syria strike would deter further violence.
“One of the things we were certainly hoping to achieve as a result of that strike was to deter future attacks by militia groups on our people, our facilities and our Iraqi partners, and we certainly hope that it has that effect,” Kirby said.
The situation in Iraq is especially tense this week ahead of a planned visit by Pope Francis. The leader of the Catholic church said Wednesday he would still visit the country despite the latest attack, Sky News Arabia reported.