On February 15, a series of rockets rained down on the American base in Erbil, Iraq. Though no Americans were killed, one civilian contractor perished. At least nine people were wounded, including one U.S. service member and several other American contractors. Within hours, a little-known group calling itself Saraya Awlia al-Dam (or the “Guardians of Blood Brigade”) claimed responsibility, saying in a message that the attack was intended to bring about an end to the American “occupation.”
American suspicions immediately fell on Iran, which has built a network of proxies inside Iraq and has repeatedly targeted the U.S. presence. However, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the U.S. is still investigating the incident and would “hold accountable those responsible.”
The attack in Erbil, though relatively small in scale, highlights another key decision point for President Biden. Like former President Donald Trump, Biden has decried the so-called “endless wars” and vowed to take steps to extricate America from them. This overcharged political rhetoric masks the reality of the situation. In Iraq, as elsewhere, the U.S. maintains only a small military footprint. And the real question is whether or not the benefits of keeping that reduced presence in place outweigh the costs. The Biden team will have to consider a number of variables in this equation. Let us briefly examine several of them.
Biden will have to confront the gap between the “endless wars” rhetoric and reality on the ground.