While the Pentagon is still dragging its feet to assign blame for the most recent rocket attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq, the Iranian proxy militias have removed any doubt, if there ever was any, of who the perpetrator was: They have stated that they will agree to stop attacking U.S. forces in Iraq if Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi formally demands that the United States withdraws all its troops. 

The Middle East Eye (MEE) news was the first to report on the issue. It seems that these Iranian-backed militias have moved from conducting local security to trying to dictate policy — Tehran’s policy — on the increasingly embattled Kadhimi government. And their coercive tactics have even spelled out a timeline: The militias gave Kadhimi a 12-month window to get this done.

But then the militias turned around and claimed that they had nothing to do with the attacks on the U.S. If in fact, this is true, then what exactly are they pledging to stop attacking?

The group of militias who have made this ultimatum to the Kadhimi government is calling itself the Coordinating Committee for the Resistance Factions and had meetings in Baghdad, Beirut, and Tehran according to MEE.

Iranian and Lebanese militia factions, as well as “an international organization operating in Iraq,” helped craft the message “one acting as a guarantor and another as a negotiator,” according to an unnamed Iraqi official. 

U.S. troops and the coalition fighting the Islamic State inside of Iraq, which is what the militias are supposed to be doing as well, were invited legally into the country by the Iraqi government. 

Meanwhile in Washington, the Biden administration is so intent on restarting nuclear negotiations with Iran that it will go out of its way to avoid upsetting Tehran and thus giving it all the plausible denial it desires. Last week, after a targeted missile strike in Iraq, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the U.S. will do what is necessary to “protect” troops overseas.

But the Pentagon’s statements, even after the president ordered strikes on Iranian-backed militias including Kait’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), have refused to mention Iran. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby’s insistence on blaming the attacks on “Shia-backed militias” rather than “Iranian-backed militias,” which is what they truly are, is quite telling. 

There is no such thing as “Shia-backed militias.” And when reporters tried to question Kirby during a Pentagon press briefing, he insisted three times that the attacks were from Shia-backed militias and not Iranian proxies. Later, he grudgingly admitted that “some of the Shia-back militias have Iranian backing.”

Iran has sensed a weakness in Washington and has had its proxies step up the pressure as the U.S. is intent on restarting nuclear negotiations. In Yemen, as soon as the Biden administration cut offensive aid to the Saudi-led coalition that battles Houthi rebels, the Iranian-led Houthis opened an offensive against the oil-rich province of Marib. They’ve also conducted several airstrikes attacking military bases and civilian targets in Saudi Arabia with drones. They have assassinated an Iranian critic in Lebanon and launched the three latest rocket attacks in Iraq. 

The nuclear deal will not prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. In fact, it will have the opposite effect and give it a clear path to one in just a few years. By ramping up the pressure on Washington, Tehran is pushing what it considers a weak, disjointed United States to offer concessions prior to resuming negotiations. 

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said earlier this month that the nuclear deal is Iran’s best course. 

“America and the world will have to kneel before our great nation and give up on their oppressive sanctions. Indeed, we have moved a step forward and achieved a great victory. That murderous butcher in America [President Donald Trump] was toppled, and the current administration has acknowledged, four times so far, that the maximum-pressure [policy] of the previous administration had been a mistake and had failed to achieve the desired result.”

The Islamic Republic is hiding behind its proxies and Washington, so eager to return to the flawed nuclear deal, is providing it the very blanket of deniability it desires. Washington has to stop this and hold Iran accountable.