Home/The State of the Union/In A Hot Holiday Minute, U.S. Bombs Iraq And Syria

In A Hot Holiday Minute, U.S. Bombs Iraq And Syria

Who needs congressional authorization when we can strike targets in other countries in "self-defense"?

An F-15E Strike Eagle over Afghanistan in 2008. According to reports, these Air Force fighters deployed Sunday's strikes against Iranian-backed targets in Syria and Iraq.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

The U.S. reportedly hit Iranian proxy targets in Syria and Iraq today in retaliation for a rocket attack on an Iraqi base that killed an American contractor and several others, including U.S. service members, on Dec. 27.

The Pentagon claimed Sunday that the Iraqi Shia group Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed paramilitary organization that swears loyalty to supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Iran, launched “more than 30 rockets against the base” during the Saturday attack. Furthermore, according to The New York Times, U.S. officials say this is indicative of the “growing risk of attacks by Iranian proxy forces on American interests and forces in the region,” and one of the “one of the two largest over the last two months.”

So the U.S. airstrikes, carried out by Air Force F-15E fighter planes on Sunday, “hit three locations in Iraq and two in Syria controlled by Kataib Hezbollah.” Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said the targets included “weapons storage facilities and command posts that were used to attack American and partner forces.” Iranian sources say at least 18 fighters were killed and upwards of 55 wounded. The Pentagon has not confirmed those numbers.

More:

The United States military warned the Iraqi government, along with other coalition partners, before the strikes against Kataib Hezbollah.

American officials have also been telling Iraq that their tolerance for the strikes by Iranian proxy forces is low. Mr. Hoffman said that while the United States military is in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government, American forces reserve the right to act in self-defense.

The Trump administration, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has been railing about these “proxy strikes” for some time, but this was the first instance of direct military retaliation by the U.S., ratcheting up what has so far been smoldering tensions between Washington and Tehran. “The key question now is whether the American counterattack tamps down the cycle of violence or escalates it,” notes the Times.

But that is certainly not the only question. Like, if these attacks have been so frequent, why haven’t we heard more about them, with dates, times, and specific details?

Furthermore, how many Americans are on this K1 base, anyway? They were initially stationed there to fight off ISIS (check), and to train Kurdish Peshmerga to fight ISIS (check). What is the mission today? According to reports there are still 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq but they are on borrowed time. The Iraqi government actually made a stink when it was suggested that Americans withdrawing from Syria in October might stay over the border in Iraq.

So why is K1 such a target? Is it the continued American presence, or other “partners” at the base that are in Kataib Hezbollah’s sites? Enquiring minds want to know.

Most critically, though, is the “self-defense” argument. U.S. troops ostensibly remain in Iraq under the 2001  AUMF, though the Iraq War is over and ISIS is gone from the region (that is why Iraqis were able to retake the K1 base in 2017). Does existing law allow for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria without congressional approval on targets not covered in the AUMF? If not, can we expect U.S. forces to bomb Iranian-connected targets anywhere, anytime, in “self-defense” and without authorization?

This is a good question for all those good members of Congress who have been demanding their war powers back. The United States could be in a hot war before we know it based on ill-defined “proxy attacks” and “self-defense” in any of the 150 places our troops are in today (not to mention U.S. Naval fleets across the globe).

No one is going to give a fig about an Iranian-backed Hezbollah group getting their arsenals handed to them in the godforsaken desert. But they will stand up and take notice if we are dragged “precision strike” by “precision strike” into another illegal war, particularly with no details, no authorization, and no other evidence than Pompeo and the Pentagon “say so.” Watching the reaction to this (if there is any, considering the holiday news cycle) in the next few days will be interesting.

about the author

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, executive editor, has been writing for TAC since 2007, focusing on national security, foreign policy, civil liberties and domestic politics. She served for 15 years as a Washington bureau reporter for FoxNews.com, and at WTOP News in Washington from 2013-2017 as a writer, digital editor and social media strategist. She has also worked as a beat reporter at Bridge News financial wire (now part of Reuters) and Homeland Security Today, and as a regular contributor at Antiwar.com. A native Nutmegger, she got her start in Connecticut newspapers, but now resides with her family in Arlington, Va.

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