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May 27, 2024

US Drone Strike in Baghdad Kills Top Iran-Militia Leader

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Jan 5, 2024

A US drone strike in Baghdad has killed a senior leader of an Iran-backed militia group blamed for recent attacks on US and coalition targets in Iraq, officials confirmed Thursday. The strike threatens to destabilize an already tense relationship between the US and Iran amid the militia groups’ vows of retaliation.

Strike Targets Militia Faction Leader

The drone strike targeted vehicles carrying senior Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) commanders near Baghdad International Airport early Thursday local time. One of the commander’s killed was Alaa Suleiman al-Jabouri, a high-level leader of the PMF’s Nujaba Movement militia faction, Iraqi security officials and militia sources said.

Nujaba members have periodically fought US forces in Iraq over the years and its leader Akram Kaabi was sanctioned by the US in 2019. The group said it would retaliate for the killings. “We…will avenge the blood of our righteous martyrs against the perpetrators of this heinous crime and with God’s help we will make the enemy taste the bitterness of revenge,” it said in a statement.

Iraqi officials condemned the strikes, with outgoing Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani labeling it a “flagrant violation” of sovereignty and security agreements while demanding an explanation from the US.

| Key Details |
|-|
|Location | Baghdad International Airport|
|Date | January 4th, 2023|
|Target | Senior militia commanders |
|Main casualty | Alaa Suleiman al-Jabouri, high-level Nujaba Movement leader |
|Group vowing retaliation | Nujaba Movement militia |
|Iraqi government reaction | Condemnation; demands explanation |

Escalating Regional Tensions

The strike comes amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran as Iran-backed militias have increased rocket attacks against US forces in recent months. The US has blamed the militia groups for attacks including a Nov. 20 strike on a base in western Iraq that houses American troops. That attack injured several US service members.

In October, the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force, Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, visited Baghdad and met with Shiite militia leaders. Shortly thereafter, the tempo and precision of rocket attacks against the US and the American Embassy in Baghdad intensified.

The US strike appears to be part of a continuing effort to curb the increasing attacks. But it also risks inflaming tensions with militia groups and their Iranian backers. Following previous US strikes on Iran-aligned militias over the past two years, militia groups have increased rocket attacks on US interests in Iraq.

##Supporting, Opposing Reactions

US reactions: The Pentagon said the strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. “This action was necessary to protect and defend US personnel,” a spokesman stated. Sen. Jim Risch, ranking Republican on Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the strike was about self-defense, not escalation.

Iran Reactions: Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani strongly condemned what he called an “attack” and demanded US forces leave the region. Iran state media reported that two Iranian pilots were killed; their bodies were shown effusively wrapped in Iranian flags.

Iraq Reactions: Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said he expects the new Iraqi parliament “to hold all security violators accountable.” But politicians allied with Iran labeled the strike “a crime.”

Russia Reactions: A member of the defense committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament linked the strikes to US policy aimed at weakening Iran and seizing Iraqi oil resources.

Israel Reactions: Israeli officials declined public comment but privately expressed support, seeing the strike as a blow to Iran’s regional militia proxies. Israeli media noted the strike occurred hours after Israel’s military concluded a major exercise focused on combatting threats from Iran.

Gulf States Reactions: Saudi Arabia, Iran’s key rival, also did not officially comment but pro-government commentators spoke approvingly of the strike. “From my perspective, bravo,” said Abdulrahman Altowaijri, a Saudi living in the US. The strike serves as “a very important message” to Iran and its proxies, he argued.

What’s Next?

Experts say the coming days and weeks will prove crucial in determining if the strike leads to de-escalation or further destabilization.

Potential de-escalation: The loss of key militia leaders could constrain the group’s ability to plan attacks over the near-term. The strike also sends a strong signal that the US will act decisively if attacks continue. This could deter militias from further strikes, fearing additional retaliation.

However, experts see this as the less likely outcome at this stage.

Potential for escalation: The targeted militia and Iranian leaders are more likely to view the strike as an act of aggression requiring retaliation. Officials and analysts say the most likely response will be an increase in rocket attacks against US and partner facilities across Iraq and Syria.

Given the strike’s timing, Iran could also retaliate more forcefully if it’s able to verify the IRGC-linked casualties. Steps could include attacks against US forces or allies by Iranian-backed militias elsewhere in the region. Experts say the risk of unrest and potential intra-Shiite violence also increases in Iraq in the strike’s aftermath.

Iraq forms the main battleground where Iran and the US compete for influence. With ties between the Washington and Tehran severely strained, some officials worry direct conflict could ensue if tensions are not carefully managed by both sides.

Background

Iran Militia Presence in Iraq

Iran has controlled powerful Shiite militias in Iraq for decades and has used the groups to strike US and allied interests. Iran funneled money and weapons to Shiite militia groups during the 2003 US invasion and subsequent occupation.

Iran retains close ties to numerous armed factions within Iraq’s state-allied but largely independent Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The PMF formed in 2014 to combat the Islamic State group and were later folded into Iraq’s official security forces.

Hardline militia groups within the PMF structure maintain strong loyalty to Iran and links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. Unclaimed attacks targeting US installations have occurred regularly over recent years. Experts assess most major PMF groups participate to some extent in harassment against US forces present in Iraq focused on eventual US withdrawal.

Recent Iraq Rocket Attacks

Attacks against US forces in Iraq dropped drastically in 2020. That followed threats from former US President Trump and tit-for-tat military exchanges with Iran that brought the two rivals close to open conflict.

But in fall 2022, rocket attacks on Iraqi bases housing American troops intensified again, reaching levels not seen in nearly two years. Most attacks cause limited damage but have resulted in injuries, heightening risk the situation could spin out of control.

  • Oct. 23: Four rockets targeted coalition forces quartered near Baghdad airport.
  • Nov. 7: 14 rockets hit a coalition base in western Anbar province’s Heet district.
  • Nov. 15: Over a dozen rockets targeted the US Embassy compound in Baghdad’s protected Green Zone; at least 3 civilians injured.
  • Nov. 20: Over 12 missiles strike base near northern city of Kirkuk, wounding several US service members.

The US has blamed Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada, another Iran-backed militia group, for most of these recent attacks. Thursday’s strike notably targeted a separate Iran-aligned PMF faction.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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