In the past year, Iranian-minded officials in Iraq carried out more than 50 rocket attacks on bases housing US troops and the American embassy in Baghdad and launched 90 attacks on convoys carrying supplies to American troops to the Pentagon.
“In short, Iran is using Iraq as a proxy for the battlefield against the United States. Iran’s ultimate goal is to drive the United States and our forces out of Iraq and the wider Middle East,” General McKenzie said last month during a virtual conference on the US Middle East.
Many senior US commanders and intelligence analysts say that Iran may not exercise the same control over Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq since the death of General Suleimani, who led the elite quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps earlier did. Some of these militias could break out without Tehran’s blessing, potentially leading to escalation and military exchanges between Iran and the United States.
The senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe operations and intelligence evaluations, cited no concrete evidence of a major impending attack on American personnel. But the official said military analysts assessed the likelihood that Iran or its proxies would miscalculate the risks of such a strike as higher than usual.
That assessment prompted the additional deterrent measures, the official said.
The United States has also sent an additional squadron of strike planes to Saudi Arabia in recent weeks. And the aircraft carrier Nimitz, which left the Middle East on November 15 to take part in a naval exercise off the coast of India, returned to the region 10 days later, ostensibly to protect the several thousand armed forces commanded by Mr. Trump out of Afghanistan and withdraw to Iraq.
“The ability to fly strategic bombers halfway around the world on a non-stop mission and quickly integrate them with multiple regional partners shows our close working relationships and our shared commitment to regional security and stability,” said General McKenzie.
Tensions had risen just before the anniversary of the assassination of General Suleimani in Iraq, where the Trump administration said it was planning attacks on American forces.