Iran-backed militias in Iraq halt attacks on US targets amid claims of defending Gaza

Iran-backed militias in Iraq halt attacks on US targets amid claims of defending Gaza
"The Iraqi militias are not defending the people of Gaza; rather, they are serving Iran's interests in the area," an Iraqi political observer argued.
4 min read
21 February, 2024
According to Iraqi outlets al-Saadi was responsible for Kataib Hezbollah's logistical support, and missile unit. [Reuters]

As factions within the Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria claim continuous targeting of Israeli and US targets in defence of the people of Gaza, Iraqi sources say the militias have halted all assaults on US targets since early this month.

Since the start of Israel's war on Gaza, Iran-backed militias in Iraq have conducted hundreds of attacks on US forces in both Iraq and Syria over Washington's unwavering support for Tel Aviv in its brutal onslaught on the besieged enclave.

Esmail Qaani, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, met with representatives of several of the armed groups in Baghdad airport on 29 January and asked them to seize attacks on US forces, Reuters reported on 18 February, citing Iraqi and Iranian sources.

The visit of Qaani to Baghdad has resulted in a cessation of attacks on US troops in both Syria and Iraq by Iran-aligned groups in Iraq. The visit came less than 48 hours after Washington blamed the Iraqi militias for the killing of three US soldiers at the Tower 22 outpost in Jordan.

Since 4 February, there have been no reported attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria. This development, reported by Reuters, is interpreted as a signal that Tehran aims to avoid a broader conflict.

However, factions within the Islamic Resistance in Iraq — an umbrella group gathering all Iraqi militias aligned to Iran — have claimed responsibility for a recent attack on Israel and have threatened to launch major attacks against the US forces in the area within the coming days.

The group has claimed responsibility for "a drone attack at an Israeli military target in Golan on 12 February, in retaliation for Israel's massacres in Gaza," vowing it would continue attacks on "the hideouts of the enemy."

The United States currently has around 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria on an advise and assist mission. They are part of an international coalition deployed in 2014 to fight Islamic State, mainly in the west of the country and eastern Syria.

Abu Baqir al-Saadi, a top commander from the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah, was killed in a US airstrike in eastern Baghdad on 8 February. The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the killing of al-Saadi was "in response to the attacks on US service members".

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The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani condemned the US airstrike and asserted that continued US airstrikes targeting Iraqi security forces could compel them to terminate the US-led coalition's mission within the nation.

An Iraqi political observer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The New Arab, "The Iraqi militias are not defending the people of Gaza; rather, they are serving Iran's interests in the area, which collecting the highest amounts of money and resources for Tehran  They want to achieve this goal through forcing the US troops to withdraw from Iraq and Syria." 

TNA contacted the US Department of Defence via email but has not responded.

Ahmed Al-Sharifi, an Iraqi security expert, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, TNA's Arabic sister website, "Iran does not want to be targeted further due to the activities of Iraqi factions in Iraq and Syria, especially since the US administration has uncovered all the threads of the Iranian game in the region  Therefore, it knows perfectly well that targeting Iran with further sanctions is the solution to deter Iraqi factions."

He also added, "Iran has found in the current stage that Iraqi escalation will cause significant damage to it, so it wants de-escalation, perhaps temporarily rather than permanently."

Furthermore, a lawmaker in the Iraqi parliament from the ruling Coordination Framework alliance told the website that the Iraqi governmental and political sides, alongside Iranian pressure, contributed to stopping the factions' attacks to undermine Washington's pretext for further assaults on Iraq.

Responding to whether the ceasefire includes neighbouring Syrian territories, the Iraqi MP said they are only concerned with the Iraqi arena, confirming that Qaani's visit to Baghdad is one of the direct reasons for halting attacks and entering into a ceasefire.

He also stated that "Washington should also assume that it will not launch new attacks on faction sites in Iraq."

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He explained that "faction leaders, specifically the Hezbollah Brigades and the Al-Nujaba Movement, have understood the current political situation and considered this issue as a test of al-Sudani's seriousness in compelling Washington to refrain from targeting faction leaders and their security symbols."

This pause in attacks is also accompanied by a reduction in the media escalation tone of factions affiliated with the Islamic Resistance in Iraq group, most notably the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades, Al-Nujaba Movement and Imam Ali Brigades.

The Iraqi army has also reduced its measures in the vicinity of the Green Zone in central Baghdad, which houses the US embassy, the European Union mission, and coordination rooms belonging to the US-led international coalition and NATO mission.