By Andrew Thornebrooke
The Biden administration said on Feb. 5 it did not inform Iraqi leadership that it would bomb targets in the nation as part of its retaliation for a drone attack in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members.
White House officials previously told reporters Iraq had been notified of the strikes but changed that position after Iraqi officials accused the United States of killing civilians.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel clarified that the administration did not tell Iraqi officials about the strikes—until after they occurred.
“As for this specific response on Friday, there was not a pre-notification. We informed the Iraqis immediately after the strikes occurred,” Mr. Patel told reporters on Feb 5.
“These targets were carefully selected… We believe that these were credible targets and picked in a way to minimize and avoid civilian casualties.”
That acknowledgment goes against what White House National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday when he said, “We did inform the Iraqi government prior to discharge.”
The administration’s walk-back follows a contentious few days in Iraq-U.S. relations, in which the Iraqi government has accused the United States of violating its sovereignty, killing its security forces and civilians.
Iraq Accuses US of Killing Civilians
A day after the strikes, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned the American Chargé d’Affaires in Baghdad, presenting him with a formal complaint, saying that the U.S. strikes led to the deaths of Iraqi Security Forces and civilians.
According to a statement by the ministry, the complaint included “Iraq’s rejection and denunciation of the American aggression that targeted Iraqi security forces as well as civilian sites… leading to deaths and injuries; among them were civilians, in addition to the damaging of residential buildings and citizens’ property.”
“The Iraqi government will exert all the efforts required by ethical, national, and constitutional responsibility to protect our lands, cities, and the lives of our civilians and all security forces,” the statement added.
Pentagon Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder denied that Iraqi security forces were targeted in the strikes and said that a review by U.S. Central Command had not yet determined the scope of casualties.
“I won’t speak for Iraq,” Gen. Ryder told reporters Monday. “They are a valued partner, and we will continue to consult closely with them.”
“We have consistently communicated to the Iraqis and others that we reserve the right to defend our personnel and others from attacks by Iranian-backed militants in Iraq.”