Intercepts indicate IRGC Qods Force seeks response to US strikes in Syria
On Aug. 30, Threat Matrix noted that Iran and Hezbollah have threatened to retaliate if the US strikes sites linked to the Assad regime in Syria. On the same day, Reuters reported that an Iraqi Shiite militia group had declared that "it would attack U.S. interests in Iraq and the region if Washington carries out a military strike on Syria." A militia spokesman told Reuters: "All their interests and facilities in Iraq and the region will be targeted by our militants if the United States insists on attacking Syria."
The threat from the Shiite group is intriguing, in light of a Sept. 5 report in the Wall Street Journal stating that the US "has intercepted an order from Iran to Shiite militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria."
The Iranian message, intercepted in recent days, came from Qasem Soleimani, the head of Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force, and went to Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups in Iraq, according to U.S. officials.The Wall Street Journal report further noted that US officials believe the US embassies in Baghdad and Beirut are likely targets for Iranian-backed terror groups. On Sept. 6, the US Embassy in Beirut announced it was drawing "down non-emergency personnel and family members from Embassy Beirut due to threats to U.S. Mission facilities and personnel." Similarly, a travel warning issued by the State Department on Sept. 5 warned "U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq."
In it, Mr. Soleimani said Shiite groups must be prepared to respond with force after a U.S. strike on Syria. Iranian officials didn't respond to requests for comment.
Today the Associated Press quoted Wathiq al Batat, the head of the Iranian-backed Mukhtar Army, as saying that his group was coordinating "with Iran" on potential attacks in response to US strikes in Syria. In February, the AP reported that the Mukhtar Army was advised by the IRGC Qods Force.
The fact that Qasem Soleimani, who famously taunted General David Petraeus, is urging Iranian proxies to carry out attacks against US interests should come as little surprise to readers of The Long War Journal. [For more on Soleimani's ties to terror, see LWJ reports: Iran, Qods Force and the Karbala attack, Osama's son coordinates call between Zawahiri and Iran's Qods Force, and Iran's Qods Force commander involved in plot to kill Saudi ambassador.]
In July, General James Mattis, the former head of CENTCOM, declared with regard to the Qods Force plot targeting the Saudi ambassador to the US (of which Soleimani had knowledge): "We caught them [Iran] in the act and yet we let them walk free." "They have been basically not held to account .... I don't know why the attempt on Adel wasn't dealt with more strongly," Mattis further stated.
Almost two years earlier, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told a US House of Representatives subcommittee: "It is pretty blunt, but I do not think you get to get around it. I think, for example, if we believe that the Guard Corps is responsible for this operation, then you should hold Qassem Soleimani responsible. Qassem Soleimani travels a lot. He is all over the place. Go get him. Either try to capture him or kill him."
With the Pentagon expanding its target list for strikes in Syria, and General Martin Dempsey referencing "initial" and "subsequent" target sets, one must wonder whether members of the IRGC and other Iranian entities extensively supporting the Assad regime will make one of the lists and get a taste of American cruise-missile diplomacy.