Republican Congressman Calls Iran 'America's Clearest Enemy' As Islamic Republic Warns of 'Consequences' for Iraq Airstrikes

Republican Rep. Mark Green referred to Iran as "America's clearest enemy" after the Islamic Republic warned of "consequences" following a U.S. military airstrike on an Iran-backed militia based in Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. carried out strikes, approved by President Donald Trump, on five facilities connected to the militant group Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria on Sunday morning, according to the Pentagon. A statement from the Popular Mobilization Units, another Iran-backed militia, said that 25 people had been killed in the strikes, CNN reported. The U.S. attack came after an American contractor working for the Defense Department was killed, while several others were wounded, after a rocket attack in Iraq on Friday.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mosavi said that the U.S. "must accept responsibility of the consequences of the illegal attacks," the Islamic Republic's state-run news agency reported. The strikes have also angered leaders in Iraq, with the country's government warning that the attack within its territory could have a negative impact for Baghdad's relationship with Washington. Iraq's government currently allows about 5,200 U.S. troops to be stationed in the country.

Asked to comment on the situation in the Middle East, Green, who serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security and is a veteran of the Iraq War, told CNN Newsroom on Monday that the U.S. needed to hold Iran in check. However, he also cautioned that the U.S. should be "very careful" not to harm its ties with Iraq, pointing out that Iran has gained greater influence in the country over the past few years.

"I'm very concerned, obviously. It's a huge issue. Iran's probably been America's clearest enemy," the congressman, who represents Tennessee, said. He noted that quickly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iranian proxies moved in to gain influence and control.

Green said that there has long been concern that the "theocracy in Iran would sort of work its way through insurgency" operations into Iraq's government. "That may be the case," he said. "We need to be very careful as we move forward..."

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have been high for decades and the two nations do not maintain formal diplomatic relations. Under President Barack Obama there was a brief improvement in ties, with the 2016 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal–which was signed by Obama, the European Union, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China.

Iranian protesters
Iranian protesters hold anti-American placards during a rally outside the former U.S. embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran on November 4 ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty

The international agreement offered Iran sanctions relief and foreign investment in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. While consistent reports from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran was abiding by the treaty, Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the deal in May 2018. He then reimplemented financial sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic. Since then, harsh rhetoric has been exchanged between Tehran and Washington. There have also been several violent incursions, although Iran and the U.S. have avoided direct confrontation, with attacks usually targeting regional allies or carried out by proxies.

Meanwhile, pro-Iran politicians and groups have gained significant power in neighboring Iraq. At the same time, many Iraqis have protested the influence of Iran in their country. In October, Iraqi demonstrators stormed and burned the Iranian embassy in the Iraqi city of Najaf, tearing down the Iranian flag and replacing it with the Iraq flag.

George Friedman, the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, told Newsweek that the situation should be viewed in the context of shifts occurring with other regional players, pointing to Russia and Turkey. He also said that he did not believe the airstrikes would lead Iraq to request that U.S. troops be withdrawn.

"At the moment the region is as unstable as it might be, with Iran having serious domestic political problems," he said. "So this is not the moment that troops will be withdrawn. The region is so up in the air that everyone is rethinking his position."

This article has been updated with analysis from George Friedman.

Republican Congressman Calls Iran 'America's Clearest Enemy' As Islamic Republic Warns of 'Consequences' for Iraq Airstrikes | World