November 22, 2023 | FDD's Long War Journal

U.S. military launches second strike in Iraq in response to attacks by Iranian-backed militias

November 22, 2023 | FDD's Long War Journal

U.S. military launches second strike in Iraq in response to attacks by Iranian-backed militias

The U.S. military attacked Iranian-backed militias at two sites south of Baghdad on Wednesday after its base in western Iraq was targeted with “close-range ballistic missiles.” When announcing the strikes, the U.S. military accused Iran of directly carrying out attacks on U.S. forces.

According to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), U.S. air assets “conducted discrete, precision strikes against two facilities in Iraq.” A U.S. military official told FDD’s Long War Journal that the “facilities” were located in Jurf al-Nasr (formerly known as Jufr al-Sakhar), a town about 60 miles south of Baghdad that is a known hub for Iranian-backed militias.

“The strikes were in direct response to the attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces by Iran and Iran-backed groups, including the one in Iraq on November 21, which involved use of close-range ballistic missiles,” CENTCOM stated.

The attack is the second by the U.S. military in Iraq in 24 hours, and takes place as the militias have stepped up attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. On Tuesday, a U.S. AC-130 gunship destroyed a vehicle that was involved in attacks against U.S. forces based at the Ain al-Asad Air Base in Anbar province. One member of Hezbollah Brigades, one of the larger and more dangerous militias created by Iran, was confirmed killed in the strike.

There have been over 60 attacks on U.S. based in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 17. Nearly all of those attacks have been claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI), which was established in 2020 to serve as a clearinghouse for smaller Iran-backed militias.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has presented U.S. airstrikes as an effort to establish deterrence against Iran and the militias. The U.S. military has now launched five strikes against Iranian-backed militias – three in Syria and two in Iraq – over the last month since Oct. 27. But each U.S. attack has been followed by more from the militias.

These smaller militias themselves are offshoots of or fronts for the established and prominent militias such as Hezbollah Brigades, Asaib Ahl-al Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. Many of these militias also are key units within the Popular Mobilization Forces, which is an official and independent Iraqi security branch. The IRI adds another layer of plausible deniability for Iran, which directs and supports these proxy militias behind the scenes.

Iran uses these militias to increase their influence in Iraq and Syria as well as to pressure the U.S. military to leave both countries. These militias are also committed to the destruction of Israel and serve as a force multiplier and strategic reserve for Iran as the war rages in Gaza and fighting intensifies on Israel’s borders.

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.

Issues:

Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy