US offers to help Iraq determine who was behind drone attack against PM

Washington has not yet blamed any group or person outright for attack

The US has offered to assist Iraq in its probe into the assassination attempt against Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi after expressing outrage following a drone attack on his residence.

Washington has not yet blamed any group or person outright but is offering federal resources to Iraqi authorities investigating the attack.

“We will continue to consult closely with our Iraqi partners. If they determine that they have any needs that their own capacities and capabilities leave unmet, we are happy to provide that assistance and together we will chart the next steps,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Such international co-operation is not uncommon. The US sent FBI agents to help with the Beirut port explosion probe in 2020 and offered assistance after this year's rocket attacks in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Describing the Baghdad attack as one against the Iraqi state, Mr Price said Washington was “ready to provide every form of appropriate assistance that our Iraqi partners may need in this".

Asked about any potential retaliation, Mr Price said the US would follow Baghdad's lead and respond “at a time and place, and with the means, of our choosing".

So far, the Iraqi government has not detailed what kind of assistance it may be looking for.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said the US can help identify the origin of the drones used in the attack.

“This can be done by comparing drones used by Iran-backed groups in Iraq and examining drone wreckage and component parts both in Iraq and in other theatres,” Mr Taleblu told The National, arguing that Washington should have already pointed to Iran as a possible culprit.

“Washington should not be afraid to call a spade a spade. Given the evident political fallout from the October elections, Iran's persistent involvement in Iraq and the discontent of the Shiite militias, all signs already point to Iran-backed groups in Iraq being behind this attack,” he said.

He called the omission of the words “militia” and “Iran” from the State Department's condemnation of the attack a “mistake".

The State Department is waiting for the investigation to conclude before assigning responsibility, Mr Price said.

Once that is done, Mr Taleblu argued the Biden administration should sanction the perpetrators.

“Washington should seek to echo and amplify the findings from any investigation Baghdad undertakes, including naming, shaming and sanctioning militias or other entities that may have been involved in the attack,” he said.

Ranj Alaaldin, an Iraq expert and fellow at the Brookings Institution, saw the attack as an “embarrassing moment for US and Iraq” and described the US offer to help as part of an unfolding pattern following attacks by pro-Iran militias in Iraq.

“This isn't the first time the US has offered to provide such support; previous efforts have resulted in largely symbolic arrests and it is difficult to see how things will be any different on this occasion,” Mr Alaaldin told The National.

Iraq has the ability to determine culpability but lacks the political will, he added.

“There are only a handful of groups that possess command-and-control capabilities that could permit the use of drones and rockets for attacking highly sensitive targets: Iran's proxies have both the means and motivation,” Mr Alaaldin said.

The US support should include more than an investigative response, he argued.

“US military support for a US-aligned prime minister who has just survived an assassination attempt by groups that have committed widespread atrocities is a strategic and moral imperative,” Mr Alaaldin said, noting that a political strategy to constrain militias was also important.

Updated: November 10th 2021, 12:05 AM