Iran-Backed Iraqi Militias Target U.S. Troops to Support Hamas

A picture taken on January 13, 2020 during a press tour organised by the US-led coalition
AYMAN HENNA/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) on Sunday denied claims by Iran-backed Shiite militia groups that they inflicted fatal casualties on American forces with rocket and drone attacks on the Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq.

The attack on Sunday was the latest in a string of assaults by Iran-controlled militia on the Ain al-Asad base, which houses a mixture of Iraqi, American, and coalition forces. The base was hit several times last week, in addition to other targets in Iraq.

An umbrella group of Shiite militias, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI), claimed responsibility for the strikes and said it caused more damage than U.S. or Iraqi officials were willing to admit. Several of the militia groups comprising the IRI warned they would step up their attacks — which have been occurring sporadically for years — if the United States stood by Israel against the terrorists of Hamas.

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IRI claimed it attacked at least three American “occupation bases” on Sunday, using explosive drones that “directly” hit their targets. The IRI claimed some of the injuries inflicted by these attacks were fatal.

“The reports of alleged U.S. service member deaths earlier today in Iraq are not true,” CENTCOM told the National on Sunday.

U.S. military sources said the attacks on Sunday involved a mixture of crude, inaccurate Katyusha rockets and bomb-laden drones. These sources said all the drones were intercepted, but one crashed and detonated inside the Ain al-Asad base without causing significant damage or casualties. 

An Iraqi security source said this drone crashed due to a “technical problem” rather than interceptor fire.

Iraq’s Shiite militia groups are largely loyal to Iran, many of them having received training and funding from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), but they were deputized and rebranded as “Popular Mobilization Forces” (PMF) to fight the Islamic State.

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani ordered his military forces to hunt down the militia groups responsible for attacking the bases where foreign troops are stationed. He also ordered increased “preemptive security measures” for the bases that have been repeatedly struck.

“Attacks that target Iraqi bases that house advisers from the international coalition in Iraq are unacceptable. They are here based on the invitation of the government,” Sudani’s forces said, even though Iraq has been accepting such attacks for years.

Iraq US

In this January 13, 2020, photo, U.S. Soldiers stand at the spot hit by Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq. (AP Photo/Qassim Abdul-Zahra)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that U.S. forces in Iraq are prepared for the “likelihood” of escalation in the Israel-Hamas war.

“We don’t want escalation if we don’t want to see a second or third front develop. We don’t want to see our forces or our personnel come under fire, but if that happens, we’re ready for it,” Blinken said.


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