U.S. carries out strikes on Iran-backed militias in Iraq

The U.S. military struck three “facilities” run by the Iran-backed Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq in response to militia attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, including a ballistic missile attack over the weekend that wounded several American soldiers. The U.S. strike is just the eighth retaliatory attack against the militias, which have targeted U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria more than 150 times since Hamas initiated its war with Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.

The U.S. strike, which took place on Wednesday, hit “three facilities used by Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah [Hezbollah Brigades] militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq,” U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported. Among the targets were a Hezbollah Brigades “headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities.”

Separately, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin described the strikes as “necessary” and “proportionate” due to “a series of escalatory attacks against U.S. and Coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias.”

Responding to the U.S. strikes, Hezbollah Brigades spokesperson Jaafar al-Husseini remarked that the organization will continue its attacks, saying, “we will continue to destroy enemy strongholds.” On its official Telegram page, Hezbollah Brigades announced the death of Ali Subieh, who is apparently one of their fighters.

Hezbollah Brigades is a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and is led by Ahmad al-Hamidawi. Hezbollah Brigades receives training, funds, weapons, intelligence and other key aid from Iran’s Qods Force. The terror group is responsible for killing hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq. Hezbollah Brigades was founded by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who was listed by the U.S. government as a specially designated global terrorist in July 2009 and was described as “an advisor to” former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani. Muhandis, along with Qaiz Khazali, played a key role in the Shia militias’ formation and subsequent attacks on U.S., Coalition, and Iraqi forces. The U.S. killed Muhandis and Soleimani in an airstrike in Baghdad in 2020.

The attack on Hezbollah Brigades is the first against Iranian-backed Iraqi militias since Jan. 4, when the U.S. killed Abu Taqwa Al Si’adi, a mid-level commander from Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, near their headquarters in Baghdad. The Iraqi government condemned the killing of Si’adi as “a blatant violation of the sovereignty and security of Iraq” and “an act no different from terrorist acts,” and called those who were killed “martyrs.” The Iraqi government also said it was time for the U.S. military to leave Iraq.

Hezbollah Brigades, Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, and other Iranian-backed militias are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which is an official branch of Iraq’s military that reports directly to Iraq’s prime minister. These militias wield significant political and military power within Iraq.

Iranian military leaders have admitted to their role in fostering and nurturing the militias as part of their plan to elevate them to power within Iraq. In 2016, a senior adviser to the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force admitted that the Popular Mobilization Forces as part of its efforts to extend its influence in the country and create an Iraqi version of the IRGC. [Also see FDD’s Long War Journal reports, Iraq’s prime minister establishes Popular Mobilization Forces as a permanent ‘independent military formation’ and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces in Iran’s game plan.]

The Iraqi and Syrian militias are attacking U.S. forces under the aegis of the Islamic Resistance of Iraq, an umbrella group of large and small Iranian-backed militia. These groups are part of Iran’s Axis of Resistance. Iran seeks to drive U.S. forces from Iraq and Syria in order to solidify its influence in the region. Moreover, Iran is leveraging its network of proxies and clients in the Axis of Resistance to carry out attacks against Israel, including against commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea and surrounding waters. By adopting this strategy, Iran aims to sow sufficient chaos in the region that it will compel Israel to accept a premature ceasefire in the war.

Joe Truzman is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah. Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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