US calls on Iraq to safeguard US troops after new attacks

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani at the White House in Washington

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military called on Iraq's government on Tuesday to take steps to safeguard American troops in both Iraq and Syria after failed attacks a day earlier by Iran-aligned militia.

The drone and rocket fire were the first such incidents since a near three-month pause in what had been almost daily attacks that culminated in the January killing of three U.S. soldiers at the Tower 22 outpost in Jordan.

With U.S.-Iran tensions soaring after the Jordan attack, and some calls from Republican lawmakers in Washington for a direct U.S. response against Iran, a senior Iranian commander had called on militia to halt their attacks at the end of January.

Speaking at the Pentagon, Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder, a spokesperson, did not speculate about what triggered the renewal in attacks. But he called on Baghdad to act.

"These attacks put coalition and Iraqi personnel at risk. We call on the government of Iraq to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria against attacks from these groups," Ryder told a news briefing.

"If these attacks continue, we will not hesitate to defend our forces, as we have done in the past."

The U.S. has some 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in eastern Syria on an advise-and-assist mission.

The United States helped Israel shoot down a massive wave of Iranian drone and missiles on April 14 fired by Tehran in retaliation for an April 1 Israeli strike against an Iranian diplomatic facility in Syria.

Washington has blamed Iran in the past for funding and directing militia in Iraq and Syria that attack U.S. forces.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, wary of his country becoming a battleground for fighting between the United States and Iran, met President Joe Biden earlier this month in an effort to turn a new page in U.S.-Iraqi relations despite soaring regional tensions.

The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled strongman leader Saddam Hussein, withdrawing in 2011 before returning in 2014 at the head of an international military coalition at the Baghdad government's request to help fight Islamic State insurgents.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)