January 17, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Fires Ballistic Missiles at Iraq and Syria

January 17, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Fires Ballistic Missiles at Iraq and Syria

Latest Developments

Iran fired ballistic missiles at Iraq and Syria on January 15 at what it described as regime opponents. The strike in Iraq, which killed four civilians, hit a residential area near the U.S. consulate in Erbil, the capital of the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed it struck an Israeli intelligence site in Iraq. “This headquarters has been the center for developing espionage operations and planning terrorist acts” in the region and in Iran, said the IRGC. Baghdad denied the Iranian claim and recalled its ambassador from Tehran; an Israeli government spokesman said he would not speculate about Tehran’s assertion. The United States condemned the Iranian attack.

The attack in Syria, which occurred in the northwestern city of Idlib, struck “anti-Iran terror groups,” the IRGC said, noting that it “identified and destroyed a number of key terror commanders and elements, especially Daesh (ISIS), in the occupied territories of Syria by firing a number of ballistic missiles.” The statement likely indicates that the strike came in retaliation for the January 3 terror attack by ISIS-Khorasan — ISIS’s Afghanistan affiliate — at a memorial ceremony in Iran for the slain IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. That terror attack killed nearly 100 Iranians.

Expert Analysis

“Despite Tehran’s successful proxy strategy currently in place, overt ballistic missile attacks launched from Iranian territory are on the rise. This is a sign of the regime’s confidence that it will not incur kinetic retaliation and in the functionality and precision of its long-range strike platforms. Iran has engaged in at least eight such operations since 2017. More capable missiles in the hands of the IRGC will mean more high and fast-flying missiles being used across the Middle East.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

“Washington needs a comprehensive strategy to push Tehran out of Iraq. Part of such a comprehensive strategy is an economic warfare plan to reduce Tehran’s economic leverage over Baghdad and prevent Tehran from using Iraq as a sanctions-busting and money-laundering hub. The first step of any plan is to freeze Tehran’s access to $10 billion from Iraq and any other future revenue the regime generates in Iraq.” — Saeed Ghasseminejad, FDD Senior Iran and Financial Economics Advisor

Iranian Influence in Iraq

Iran has long played a destabilizing a role in Iraq, primarily through proxies but also through occasional direct attacks by IRGC forces. The latest direct attack suggests that Tehran feels increasingly emboldened to challenge the United States and its allies in the region.

In March and September of 2022, Iran fired ballistic missiles at targets in Iraqi Kurdistan, with the September attack reportedly killing 13 people, including one U.S. citizen. In January 2020, after the United States killed Soleimani, more than 100 American troops suffered traumatic brain injuries when Iran fired ballistic missiles at U.S. positions in Iraq. In October 2018, Iran attacked Kurdish groups in northern Iraq with ballistic missiles.

Iran’s Evolving Ballistic Missile Program

Iran has the largest ballistic missile program in the Middle East, and recent improvements in ballistic missile precision, range, mobility, warhead design, and survivability make it a particularly potent threat to the region. In November 2023, Iran reportedly unveiled a new hypersonic missile, claiming capabilities that surpass those of an earlier version of the missile unveiled earlier in the year. Hypersonic missiles are highly maneuverable projectiles that can carry nuclear and conventional payloads and fly at speeds of at least five times the speed of sound.

Arsenal: Assessing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program,” by Behnam Ben Taleblu

Strikes on Iraq Reveal Iran’s Embrace of Missile Operations,” by Behnam Ben Taleblu

Iran-Backed Militias Attack U.S. Forces in Iraq,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran Receives Access to $10 Billion Thanks to U.S. Sanctions Waiver,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S. Strikes Iraqi Militia After Three Servicemembers Injured,” FDD Flash Brief


Iran Iran Missiles Syria