Iraqi militias threaten to hit US interests if Israel wages wider war on Lebanon

Iraqi militias threaten to hit US interests if Israel wages wider war on Lebanon
Hundreds of fighters from various Iraqi factions are undergoing training in camps under Iranian supervision in preparation for the upcoming war with Israel.
5 min read
01 July, 2024
The PMF, officially part of Iraq's security forces, is also aligned with the resistance factions and often receives directives from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). [Getty]

The Iraqi Resistance Coordination Coalition, comprising several armed groups allied with Iran, has declared an end to the ceasefire with the United States in Iraq that has been in place since February. The coalition also threatened to escalate military operations against US interests in Iraq and the region if Israel initiates a wide war against Lebanon.

This announcement coincides with the factions' second meeting in less than ten days to discuss, amid rising tensions between Hezbollah and Israel.

"In response to threats from the Zionist-American enemy to wage war on Lebanon and its brave resistance, if these threats are carried out, the intensity and scope of operations against them will escalate. Legitimate targets will include the criminal interests of the US enemy in Iraq and the region," the coalition stated in a recent release.

Iraqi Islamic resistance factions have intensified their media campaign against the United States following mutual threats between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Just under two weeks ago, they held an "extraordinary" meeting to discuss the US presence in Iraq, asserting their capability to terminate it "by any means necessary."

Sources within the Islamic Resistance in Iraq disclosed to Lebanon's Al-Akhbar newspaper that hundreds of fighters from various armed factions, particularly Kata'ib Hezbollah, are undergoing training in camps both inside and outside Iraq under Iranian supervision. These exercises are seen as precautionary measures in anticipation of a potential full-scale conflict in the region, especially following heightened tensions involving Hezbollah and Israel.

The sources noted a renewed focus on training Iraqi faction fighters due to the arrival of advanced weaponry, missiles, and high-tech drones from Iran and Russia, necessitating specialised training. They revealed the existence of more than ten training camps across various Iraqi cities, serving dual purposes: training regular fighters and preparing individuals under the guidance of Iranian military experts to a standard comparable to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or Hezbollah.

Furthermore, batches of recruits currently undergoing training in Iran are expected to graduate and return to Iraq, including members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), Kata'ib Hezbollah, and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq. The emphasis of this training extends beyond military skills to include ideological mobilisation and readiness.

The coalition also criticised the Basra-Aqaba oil pipeline project, viewing it as an economic drain on Iraq without benefit and asserting it marks the beginning of "a scheme facilitating normalisation with Israel".

Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, declared his nation to be in a state of war amidst ongoing clashes between Israel and Hezbollah, raising concerns about a potential Israeli invasion.

These developments follow Iraqi resistance factions ceasing fire with the US in February after the assassination of Kata'ib Hezbollah leader Abu Bakr al-Saadi. Since then, no operations against US interests in the country have occurred, despite ongoing US drone activity in Iraqi airspace, notably in Baghdad, Anbar and Kurdistan. However, the factions claimed responsibility for drone operations targeting Israeli assets.

In May, amid growing anti-US sentiment in Iraq fuelled by Israel's war on Gaza, US, and British companies in Baghdad, including Caterpillar and the Cambridge Institute, faced a series of attacks. The Iraqi government attributed these incidents to efforts to destabilize the country and detained 12 individuals in connection with the attacks.

Since the 7 October attacks led by Hamas and subsequent Israeli war on Gaza, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq—comprising factions close to Tehran such as Kata'ib Hezbollah, Al-Nujaba, Sayyid al-Shuhada and Imam Ali —has conducted hundreds of attacks targeting Israeli and US assets. This includes a drone attack in January on a US base near the Syrian border in Jordan, resulting in the deaths of three US soldiers.

The PMF, officially part of Iraq's security forces, is also aligned with the resistance factions and often receives directives from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Previously, the PMF attributed "social, political, and religious pressures" as reasons for ending what they termed as a period of "calm" with Washington. They have given an ultimatum to the Iraqi government to lead efforts in seeking legal and diplomatic resolutions to end the presence of the international coalition in Iraq.

Many of the Iraqi factions have fighters who are veterans of Iraq's recent wars or have been deployed in the civil war in Syria, which is separated from Israel by the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

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Militants are based south of the capital Damascus, and "elite troops" are stationed in the Golan region near the Israeli-occupied sector, says the group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Iraq specialist Tamer Badawi said the importance of Iraqi groups' "coordinated attacks" carried out with the Houthis "lies in their symbolism".

He said they aim to highlight "the idea that groups separated by significant geographic distances are capable of synchronising their armed action against a common adversary".

Badawi, a doctoral student at Kent University, said any Iraqi intervention in Lebanon—whether by sending "fighters en masse" or just "advisors"—would "depend on Hezbollah's warfare needs".

The scale of mobilisation would respond to the need of "projecting the optics of transnational solidarity", Badawi said.

"Symbolism matters for those groups across the region and is part of their branding as members of one league, as much as actual involvement in armed action."

Many analysts suggest Israel, Hezbollah and Iran do not want a costly full-scale war in Lebanon, but caution about the potential for miscalculations that could escalate tensions dangerously.

Agencies contributed to this report.