The United States military suspects that an Iranian-linked attack on American personnel and interests in Iraq could be immanent as the one-year anniversary of Iranian terrorist leader Qassem Soleimani's death approaches.
On Jan. 2, 2020, the U.S. launched a drone strike on an envoy near the Baghdad airport that killed the renowned Iranian military leader along with Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
What are the details?
Defense officials reportedly expressed their suspicions of a retaliatory attack on Wednesday as two B-52 bombers finished a round-trip, 30-hour mission from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to the Middle East. The mission was part of an effort to demonstrate American military might in the region and deter any action by Iran.
"The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities into the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to deter any potential adversary, and make clear that we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed at Americans or our interests," said Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, chief of U.S. Central Command, according to the Washington Post.
"We do not seek conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack," he added.
Another defense official speaking anonymously told the Post that "the threat streams are very real" and that a "fair amount of advanced conventional weaponry" has flowed over the border from Iran into Iraq in recent weeks.
Last week, McKenzie similarly indicated to ABC News that U.S. forces remained "in a period of heightened risk," but emphasized that the military is "not looking for war with Iran."
Those comments came as the U.S. Navy acknowledged that it sent a submarine into the Persian Gulf, "a move widely seen as sending a message to Iran," the outlet reported.
Soleimani's death was a major blow to the terror-sponsoring Iranian regime as he was the leader of the elite Quds Force, a special wing of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. For years, he had coordinated attacks on U.S. forces and assets in the Middle East.
Given how high profile a leader he was, a retaliatory attack near the anniversary of his death is certainly a possibility, especially as tensions rise in the region.
Last week, unknown attackers launched more than 20 rockets on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, killing at least one Iraqi civilian, though no Americans were hurt. Iran denied any involvement, but the Post reported that U.S. officials believe the attack was carried out by militias coordinating with the regime.
President Trump responded to the attack with a sober warning for Iran: