Pentagon 'Against External Actors' in Iraq After Alleged Israeli Attacks

After U.S. outs Israeli strikes against Iran targets, Department of Defense says Iraq has the right to protect itself

Mourners step over the print of a U.S. flag during the funeral procession of Abu Ali al-Dabi, a fighter of Iran-backed PMF, during his funeral procession in Baghdad, Iraq, August 26, 2019.
Ali Abdul Hassan/AP

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Defense released on Monday an official statement distancing the American administration from recent airstrikes in Iraq attributed to Israel, highlighting U.S. support for "Iraqi sovereignty" and opposition to "external actors."

U.S. officials have spoken out against the airstrikes over the past week, but so far mostly speaking anonymously to the media. Monday's statement, published by chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman, is the clearest sign yet that the American administration is troubled by the latest developments.

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Hoffman clarifies in the statement that the "U.S. forces did not conduct the recent attack on a convoy or any recent attacks that resulted in the explosion of ammunition storage facilities in Iraq," adding that "statements to the contrary are false, misleading, and inflammatory."

The statement goes on to note that "We support Iraqi sovereignty and have repeatedly spoken out against any potential actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq. The government of Iraq has the right to control their own internal security and protect their democracy. They are conducting an investigation into the recent attacks accordingly."

Timeline of events over the past week amid an escalation in the Middle East involving Syria, Iraq and Israel.
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Hoffman also said that "as guests of Iraq, U.S. forces operate at the invitation of the Iraqi government and comply with all laws and directions. Furthermore, we are fully cooperating with the investigation."

The official statement included two sentences that previously appeared in quotes attributed to a Pentagon official in a Friday report by the Los Angeles Times. The originial quote, however, blamed the tensions in the region on Iran, which is not mentioned at all in the statement. 

The U.S. has a strategic relationship with Iraq's government and military, which are seen as stabilizing forces, despite their close alliance with Iran. In fact, American officials are concerned that tensions with the Iraqi government would push it even closer to Iran, thus hurting the U.S. administration's strategy of pushing back against Iranian activities in the region.

Colin Kahl, national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, said in response to the statement: "The fact that the Pentagon felt that it had to put out a statement like this suggests that they are concerned that alleged Israeli strikes on Iranian-backed militia in Iraq could endanger U.S. forces."

Earlier on Monday, Iraq's president and prime minister have both denounced the airstrikes, describing them as "attacks on Iraq's sovereignty." In addition, a powerful bloc in the Iraqi parliament called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in response to the airstrikes.

The U.S. maintains about 5,000 troops in Iraq, and their main missions are to fight the remnants of the Islamic State and maintain cooperation with the Iraqi military.