A top U.S. general said on Thursday that Iran is significantly underreporting the number of its coronavirus victims and he believed that the global pandemic is making Tehran more dangerous, a day after an attack in Iraq that killed U.S. and British troops.
"I think it is having an effect on how they make decisions, I think it slows them down...I believe the numbers are probably significantly underreported," U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said.
McKenzie said while he did not know for sure what impact the virus was having that "authoritarian regimes" usually react to extreme pressure by looking at external threats.
"I think it probably makes them, in terms of decision making, more dangerous rather than less dangerous," McKenzie said during a Senate hearing.
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"While we are still investigating the attack, I will note that the Iranian proxy group Kataib Hezbollah is the only group known to have previously conducted an indirect fire attack of this scale against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq," McKenzie added.
Washington blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a strike in December that killed a U.S. contractor, leading to a cycle of tit-for-tat confrontations earlier this year that culminated in January's U.S. killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian missile attack that left more than 100 U.S. troops with brain injuries.
The U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq says 18 107 mm Katyusha rockets struck Iraq's Taji military camp.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a total of 30 of the rockets were fired from nearby truck and that only 18 of them landed at the Iraqi base.
On Wednesday, the U.S.-led coalition said about a dozen personnel were injured. McKenzie told the Senate there were several servicemembers injured, which leaves open the possibility that the additional wounded were contractors.
In a sign of concern that tensions between the United States and Iran could be headed toward open conflict, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday to limit President Donald Trump's ability to wage war against Iran.
The Republican president has been engaged in a maximum-pressure campaign of renewed sanctions and near-constant rhetoric against Iran, after pulling the United States out of the international nuclear deal reached during the administration of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.
Iran-backed paramilitary groups have regularly been rocketing and shelling bases in Iraq that host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.