In the summer of 2011, rockets supplied by Iran killed as much as 15 U.S. troops per month in Iraq. Marine Corps General James Mattis had a plan to hit back but the Obama administration refused his request.
In early June of 2011, six U.S. soldiers were slain in a single such attack with another three killed just weeks after. Then the commander of U.S. Central Command, Mattis had had enough and decided the U.S. must retaliate before the Iranian rockets produced more carnage. According to former senior U.S. officials speaking to the Washington Post, Mattis, in conjunction with then Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey, recommended an attack inside Iranian territory.
The plan was to ram home to the Iranian government that running rockets to its Shiite proxy insurgents inside Iraq was no longer going to be allowed. Mattis proposed a nighttime raid against an oil refinery or power plant inside Iranian territory.
The White House took delivery of the strike proposal and consequently denied it. President Barack Obama was under the impression such an attack would enrage the Iranians, potentially worsening the Iraqi occupation he was attempting so desperately to put an end to. Several White House staffers worried the plan runs the risk of starting a war with Iran, a country Obama sought to pursue a compromise with.
Leon Panetta, who was secretary of defense at the time, told the Post, “There was clearly White House staff who thought the recommendations he was making were too aggressive. But I thought a lot of that was, frankly, not having the maturity to look at all of the options that a president should look at in order to make the right decisions.”
‘Accountable for at least 500 U.S. deaths’
Iran was the main supporter of the Shiite uprising in Iraq during the U.S. occupation. Iran provided its proxies with lethal explosively formed penetrators — a form of an improvised explosive device designed precisely to rip through U.S. armored vehicles — in addition to rockets.
Iran’s Quds Force, a division of the infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is thought to have provided several of the weapons used by Iraqi rebels. A few reports indicate the group’s leader, the notorious Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, was accountable for at least 500 U.S. deaths in Iraq because of his support of the insurgents.
Obama had cause to reject the strike request, though Mattis possibly did not know it. At the time, the Obama administration was covertly conferring with Iran on its swiftly progressing nuclear weapons program. A direct strike on Iranian territory would potentially thwart the clandestine talks.