Authorized by President Donald Trump, U.S. forces late Thursday carried out a wave of airstrikes across Iraq purportedly targeting an Iran-linked militia that the Pentagon claims was behind a rocket attack that killed two American servicemembers earlier this week.
The airstrikes risk sparking yet another dangerous escalation of military tensions between the U.S. and Iran at a uniquely perilous moment: Both nations are struggling to contain and combat the novel coronavirus, with Iran hit particularly hard by the pandemic as it works to muster adequate medical resources while in the vice grip of Trump administration sanctions.
The Trump White House, meanwhile, is under fire for bungling its response the the outbreak and failing to devote sufficient government resources to fighting COVID-19, which has infected over 1,400 people in the United States—a number that experts say is likely to rise dramatically in the coming days as the disease spreads and the remarkably slow rate of testing picks up speed.
“This moment is the last three decades of U.S. foreign policy in miniature: spare nothing for war and military dominance and find little to spare for true threats like climate change and pandemic disease,” tweeted Stephen Wertheim, deputy director of research and policy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, noted Thursday that “the annual Pentagon budget is $738,000,000,000.”
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 1.5% the size,” Sanders tweeted. “If we can find money on bombs and missiles to kill people, we can damn well afford to protect everyone’s health and take care of each other.”
A senior Trump administration official told the Washington Post late Thursday that the president directed U.S. forces to bomb five Kataib Hezbollah weapons facilities with the stated goal of reducing the group’s “ability to carry out future attacks.”
Kataib Hezbollah is the same Iran-linked militia group that the Trump administration blamed—falsely, according to Iraqi officials—for a rocket attack last December that the White House used as a justification to assassinate Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani with a drone strike in Baghdad, a move that nearly sparked an all-out war.
It is not clear whether there were any casualties from the latest round of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. Harakat al-Nujaba, a separate Iran-backed militia, “accused the United States of hitting militia and Iraqi army headquarters, as well as a civilian airport,” the Post reported.
“In the middle of a global pandemic—while people across the country quarantine in fear and struggle to pay their rent—Trump is bailing out fossil fuel corporations and bombing the Middle East,” tweeted Michael Galant, senior communications associate with advocacy group Win Without War. “It’s all laid bare. For everyone to see.”
Remember escalation w/#Iran is Trump’s manufactured crisis.
Stories from #Italy & Iran describe fight against #CODVID19 like war. All hands on deck needed. This is when we’re reminded of real crisis & global challenges. We need diplomacy & cooperation now more than ever.
— Assal Rad (@AssalRad) March 12, 2020
Ryan Costello, policy director with the National Iranian American Council, said in a statement late Thursday that “without a radical change in U.S. policy, we risk repeating the escalatory cycle, threatening to plunge the region in yet another conflict and sucking the U.S. into another endless war.”
“Fortunately, Congress just sent a bipartisan resolution to the president’s desk clarifying that he does not have authority to start a war with Iran and urging him to withdraw troops in hostilities with Iran,” Costello said, referring to the War Powers Resolution passed by the House Wednesday. “Rather than ignore Congress and the American people’s wishes on war and peace, he should sign the resolution and urgently seek diplomacy to put the war threat on ice.”
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