Biden Pressed To Cancel White House Visit by Iraqi Premier as a Widened Middle East Conflict Heats Up

The calls from congressional Republicans coincide with an Israeli navy target at Eilat being struck by an Iranian-made drone launched from Iraq. As if in retaliation, Israeli jets hit a building adjacent to the Iranian embassy at Damascus, killing a top terror commander.

AP/Omar Sanadiki
Emergency services work at a destroyed building hit by an airstrike, at Damascus, Syria, April 1, 2024. AP/Omar Sanadiki

As Iran adds Iraqi militias to the list of its proxy armies at war with Israel, and as Israel hits a major Iranian terror master at Damascus, is it time for President Biden to cancel a White House reception for Baghdad’s top political leader? 

Congressional Republicans are calling on Mr. Biden to disinvite Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, and scrap his scheduled April 15 Washington visit. Even as the Baghdad leader prepares his trip, an Iranian-made drone launched from Iraq struck an Israeli navy target at Eilat early Monday morning.

As if in retaliation, Israeli jets hit a building adjacent to the Iranian embassy at Damascus Monday evening. The strike reportedly killed the most senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’s Quds force in Syria and Lebanon, Mohammed-Reza Zahedi. Also killed in the strike was Zahedi’s deputy, General Mehdi Rahimi. 

The Guards’ veteran general is widely described as a central figure who oversaw arms transfers, financing, and training to proxy militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the West Bank. Zahedi is the most senior Iranian commander killed since October 7, and his death is the greatest blow to the IRGC since the Quds force’s commander, Qassam Soleimani, was killed in an American drone strike in January 2020. 

According to Tehran officials, the strike at the embassy at Damascus was conducted by Israeli jets that fired six missiles from the Golan heights. “The Zionist regime has acted against international laws, which will result in our decisive response,” Tehran’s ambassador to Syria, Hossein Akbari, said in a statement. 

Since the start of the war, Israel mostly targeted Hamas in Gaza, but also hit militias that have attacked from Lebanon, the Syrian Golan, or even as far as Yemen. Now it is changing the rules of the game, with a direct hit to the Iranian head of the snake. 

While the Monday strike was likely planned long in advance, “there is no question that Zahedi is involved in operations like the attack at Eilat,” Tel Aviv university’s Iran scholar, Beni Sabti, told Kan News. That attack, from as far as 620 miles, was the first drone launch from Iraq.

While the so-called suicide drone caused no casualties, Israelis are increasingly concerned about the sophisticated Iranian-made aircraft’s ability to evade its air defenses. The drone hit a navy base where high-end vessels are docked, as Iraq becomes the latest to join the Iran-led regional war on Israel.   

Following quiet negotiations between Washington and Tehran officials, Iran-backed Iraqi militias all but stopped attacks on American troops based in Iraq and Syria, a Mideast watcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Jonathan Schanzer, tells the Sun. That diplomacy, he said, involved significant transfers of funds to the Islamic Republic.

The Iraqi militias’ attacks culminated in the January death of three American troops stationed in Jordan, near the Syrian border. Yet, the secret Iranian-American negotiations that all but stopped Iraqi militia strikes against U.S. troops in the last six weeks “clearly did not include attacks on Israel,” Mr. Schanzer says. “Was that a tacit green light to Iranian attacks on Israel via its Iraqi militias?” he asks. 

The Iraqi militias are part of the country’s security apparatus, and Baghdad must be held responsible. Mr. Schanzer adds that “a clear message needs to be sent about attacks from their territory,”including, perhaps, by canceling Mr. Sudani’s planned White House visit. 

In a letter to Mr. Biden, four Republican senators led by Senator Cotton, and four members of the House recommended exactly that, arguing that feting Mr. Sudani at the White House now would send the wrong message to the region. 

“Hosting the Iraqi Prime Minister, especially while failing to meet with leaders of some of our most trusted partners in the region, amplifies the message of your ongoing campaign to undermine Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu,” they wrote: “the Biden administration is interested in appeasing Iran, not supporting our allies.”

Under “significant Iranian influence,” the legislators add, “the Iraqi government provides some $3 billion per year to the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces militias, including four U.S.-designated terrorist groups.” 

Addressing Mr. Biden, they write that “your appeasement of Iran has endangered American national security and weakened our relationship with our allies.” While disinviting Mr. Sudani “will not undo the damage you’ve caused, they represent an important first step.”

As Tehran vows major retaliation for the killing of Zahedi, little is left from Mr. Biden’s “don’t.” That call, earlier in the war, warned all Mideast factions against joining Hamas in a regional war. As Mr. Biden looks to de-escalate, Israel seems resolved to re-establish its regional deterrence.

The New York Sun

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