The United States conducted airstrikes in Iraq targeting facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups on Monday night, according to the Pentagon. The strikes come after a series of attacks on US bases in Iraq in recent weeks by militias tied to Iran.
Recent Attacks Against US Forces
US forces in Iraq have faced over 55 attacks since September from militias like Kataib Hezbollah and others receiving support from Iran. These attacks have included drone and rocket strikes targeting bases housing American troops:
- On November 20, the Harir base north of Erbil which houses US troops came under drone attack. The attack was claimed by a self-proclaimed "Islamic Resistance in Iraq" group.
- US bases in eastern Syria were targeted by rockets on November 20 in an attack claimed by the Alwiyat al Waad al Haq group believed to be affiliated with Iran-backed militias.
- Iran-backed militias fired over 13 rockets at Iraq’s Al Asad airbase on November 15, home to a small US military contingent. The attack wounded 8 US service members.
- At least 5 attacks targeted the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad in September and October. The zone houses the US embassy.
Table showing recent attacks on US forces:
|Type of Attack
|Group Claiming Responsibility
|Harir base, Iraq
|Islamic Resistance in Iraq
|Base, eastern Syria
|Alwiyat al Waad al Haq
|Al Asad airbase, Iraq
|13 rocket strike
|Green Zone, Baghdad
|At least 5 attacks
|Various Iran-backed militias
These repeated strikes show the intent of Iran-backed groups to target and destabilize the US presence in Iraq. The groups are retaliating against the US military involvement in the region targeting ISIS over the last several years.
US Retaliatory Strikes
On Monday, the US conducted retaliatory strikes by fighter jets and a Spectre gunship against facilities used by the militias responsible for the attacks:
- US Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighter jets struck a facility located in eastern Syria used by the Kataib Hezbollah militia.
- An AC-130J Ghostrider gunship destroyed 9 vehicles and equipment used to attack the bases.
- Up to 8 fighters of Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada, an Iran-backed militia, were killed in the strikes per Iraqi militia officials.
The US strikes targeted storage facilities used by the militias to coordinate attacks on bases housing American troops. They signify an escalating shadow war brewing between the US and Iran in Iraq and Syria.
Iraq Condemns Strikes as Violation of Sovereignty
Iraq criticised the US airstrikes targeting the Iran-backed groups as a ”blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty." Previous strikes have also drawn condemnation, further straining US-Iraq relations.
Iraq finds itself caught in the middle of tensions between its two allies, the US and Iran. Iran wields extensive influence in Iraq through the various militia groups it supports that are deeply embedded in Iraq’s state apparatus.
Strikes by both sides severely test Iraq’s ability to balance these ties. Too little condemnation of US strikes risks angering Iran, while overly denouncing America invites retaliation from Iraqi politicians affiliated with the US.
What Next After the Strikes?
The tit-for-tat attacks between the US and Iran-backed militias are likely to continue spiralling after the latest escalation:
- Hardline elements among the militias will push for expanded strikes targeting US bases. Groups like Kataib Hezbollah have substantial arsenomes of rockets and drones provided by Iran.
- The November 15 attack wounding US troops makes expanded American retaliation almost certain. Further injuries or loss of life will force a far stronger response.
- Iraq faces growing instability if it cannot control the militias targeting foreign troops within its borders, especially with elections scheduled for next year.
For now the shadow war remains below the threshold of open conflict. But the repeated cycles of attack and retaliation significantly heighten the risk of miscalculation that could unleash a larger regional conflagration.
Tensions between Iran-allied militias and US forces stationed in Iraq to fight ISIS have steadily mounted since 2020.
That January, the US assassinated top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, sparking outrage across Iraq. Days later, an Iranian missile strike targeted US soldiers stationed at the Al Asad and Irbil bases.
Though no Americans died in those attacks, over 100 were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries in the months after.
The tit-for-tat conflict threatens to undo years of US efforts in the region combatting terrorism by further destabilising Iraq. It endangers American soldiers supporting Iraqi forces attempting to prevent an ISIS resurgence.
Most worryingly, stray attacks or misjudgements risk igniting open military confrontation between the US and Iran throughout the Middle East.
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