- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2020

A leader of the Iran-backed siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was welcomed to the White House in 2011 by President Barack Obama, an embarrassment that President Trump’s allies on Thursday dumped in the lap of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

Hadi al-Amiri was photographed outside the U.S. Embassy during the siege this week and was singled out by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as an Iranian “proxy” abetting terrorists who stormed the walls of the compound and set fires. Mr. Pompeo posted photos of Mr. al-Amiri and another leader tied to Iran, Faleh al-Fayyad, watching the siege outside the embassy walls.

The embassy crisis in Baghdad appeared to have eased Thursday, but Iraqi state television reported Friday local time that the commander of Iran’s elite Quds force, Gen. Qassim Soleimani and the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were killed in an airstrike targeting their vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport.

There were also unconfirmed reports that Mr. al-Amiri had been arrested. He leads the Popular Mobilization Forces militant group, which organized the attacks on the embassy.

In December 2011, Mr. al-Amiri was serving as Iraq’s minister of transportation when he attended a meeting in the Oval Office with Mr. Obama. He was with the delegation of then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and was photographed seated near Mr. Biden at another White House event that day.

Mr. al-Amiri leads the Badr Organization, one of the largest Iran-backed militias in Iraq. It is funded by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and has been designated as a terrorist group by the Trump administration. Even at the time of his White House visit, Mr. al-Amiri was considered Iran’s point man in Iraq.

The militia fought occupying U.S. forces after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Mr. Trump’s team said the appearance of Mr. al-Amiri in the attack on the U.S. compound this week reflected badly on Mr. Biden, who was the Obama administration’s top policy person on Iraq and has long prided himself on his grasp of Iraqi politics.

“Heckuva job, Joe Biden!” tweeted the Trump campaign’s war room account.

“Why is this not at all surprising?” Donald Trump Jr. said in a post on Twitter.

Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani called the disclosure “the legacy of Obama & his #POINTMAN for Iraq, VP Biden, who failed” to reach a “status of forces” agreement so U.S. troops could remain in Iraq beyond 2011.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops, after the Iraqi leadership refused to guarantee standard immunity for American forces, was blamed for the subsequent rise of the Islamic State, which Mr. Obama famously dismissed as a “JV” terrorist group wearing Kobe Bryant jerseys.

Mr. Giuliani also highlighted a lucrative deal that Mr. Biden’s younger brother, James, obtained in 2011 as executive vice president of the HillStone International construction company to build 500,000 houses in Iraq.

“Brother James, however, was much more successful for the Biden Family Enterprise, obtaining 1/3 of a $1.5B housing deal in Iraq,” Mr. Giuliani tweeted. “James knew as much about housing as Hunter did about Oil & gas.”

Hunter Biden, a son of the former vice president, was paid at least $3 million for his position with a Ukrainian natural gas company, despite having no experience in the energy field, while his father was the Obama administration’s point person on Ukraine policy.

A spokesman for the Biden campaign didn’t return a request for comment.

Mr. Biden told supporters Thursday that he has taken the brunt of Mr. Trump’s attacks for eight months, “and I’m still winning” against his Democratic primary rivals.

At the time Mr. Obama hosted the White House meeting, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, then-chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed outrage that the president would allow Mr. al-Amiri into the White House. He was suspected of having a link to the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, told The Washington Times in 2011 that it was “extremely disturbing that the White House would see fit to welcome al-Amiri to a discussion on the future of Iraq.”

“If anything, he should be subject to questioning by the FBI and other appropriate U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism agencies,” she said. “The victims of Khobar Towers and the families of thousands of U.S. troops who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq deserve no less.”

Louis J. Freeh, who served as FBI director under President Clinton, said at the time that Mr. al-Amiri carried out “countless acts of terrorism, which are acts of war against the United States.” He specifically blamed Mr. al-Amiri for the Khobar Towers bombing.

The truck bombing was blamed on Iran and Hezbollah militants.

Mr. Obama defended his hosting of Mr. al-Amiri at the time by saying “he has shown himself to be willing to make very tough decisions in the interests of Iraqi nationalism, even if they cause problems with [Iran].”

A top State Department official during the Obama administration wrote Thursday that the attacks targeting the U.S. Embassy in Iraq were the result of Mr. Trump’s failed policies.

Wendy Sherman wrote in USA Today that Mr. Trump’s confrontations with Iran and his withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Tehran resulted in a “combustible moment.”

“Even as the United States was confronting Iran over its nuclear program and malign behavior elsewhere, we maintained an uneasy coexistence in Iraq, where Tehran holds considerable sway,” said Ms. Sherman, adding that any progress “was destroyed when Trump withdrew from” the nuclear deal.

“Three years into his presidency, Donald Trump owns the events and outcomes in Iraq and Iran, as he does in North Korea, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Middle East, Russia, China and Hong Kong,” she wrote. “Having diminished our State Department, intelligence agencies and military, the very institutions that could have helped him construct an effective national security and foreign policy, he is now on his own.”

The tensions in Iraq increased after the militant group Kataeb Hezbollah carried out a rocket attack against a military compound near Kirkuk, killing a U.S. defense contractor and wounding four U.S. soldiers. The U.S. responded with airstrikes, killing about 25 of the group’s fighters.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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