June 18, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Why US terror designation for Iraqi-based terror group matters

Harakat Ansar Allah al-Awfiya is one of many Iranian-backed groups in Iraq that threaten the region
June 18, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Why US terror designation for Iraqi-based terror group matters

Harakat Ansar Allah al-Awfiya is one of many Iranian-backed groups in Iraq that threaten the region

The US Department of State designated an Iraqi-based terrorist group on June 17. “The Department of State today designated Harakat Ansar Allah al-Awfiya (HAAA) and HAAA Secretary General Haydar Muzhir Ma’lak al-Sa’idi as Specially Designated Global Terrorists,” the US said. This is important because it shows the US continues to be focused on the threat of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

The US State Department noted that the group is an “Iraq-based Iran-aligned militia group and part of the ‘Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI).’” The Islamic Resistance has often targeted Israel throughout the conflict with Hamas. This is one of the numerous Iranian proxies that have been attacking Israel using drone threats and more recently, the attempted use of cruise missiles. The IRI is an umbrella group for a large number of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

The US calls the IRI “a front group that includes multiple Iran-aligned terrorist and militia groups, including U.S.-designated terrorist organizations Kata’ib Hizballah, Harakat al-Nujaba, and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, that have repeatedly attacked Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.”

Attacks on US forces

Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for the attack on US forces in Jordan in January that killed three US personnel. The Iranian-backed groups in Iraq carried out more than 100 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria from October through January. In recent months it appears these groups have reduced their threats to US forces, but they have increased their threats to Israel.

The US State Department says that HAAA was involved in the attack on US forces in Jordan. “Additionally, HAAA has publicly threatened to continue attacking U.S. interests in the region.  HAAA has also terrorized the Iraqi people. The United States remains committed to using all available tools to counter Iran’s support for terrorism and to degrade and disrupt the ability of Iran-backed groups to conduct terrorist attacks.”

The wider story here is that the US has designated other groups within the IRI. Therefore the US is now searching for more entities to target, such as HAAA. This is important primarily for the symbolic aspect here. It shows the US is still committed to going after the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq who have spread chaos in the region and threaten the US, Israel and others.  

The more important question is what comes next now in Iraq. The Iranian-backed groups in Iraq have sought to increase their attacks on Israel. They frequently claim drone attacks but most of these do not seem to leave Iraqi airspace. This leads to questions about whether Iran is deliberately starving these groups of resources or if the groups are simply inventing stories about their attacks.

Nevertheless, the groups continue their attacks. Iran’s Press TV said on June 16 that “Iraq’s Islamic Resistance has announced striking the city of Haifa in the northern part of the occupied territories with an advanced cruise missile in a fresh pro-Palestinian operation. The umbrella group of anti-terror fighters made the announcement on Saturday. It specified the projectile used in the operation as an ‘al-Aqrab’ missile.” The groups also claimed a cruise missile attack in early May. The IDF said it intercepted a cruise missile heading toward Israel “from the East,” on May 30. It was not clear if this was linked to the Iraqi groups.  

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Issues:

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