Iran-Backed Militias Attack U.S. Forces in Iraq


U.S. Forces Attacked by Iran-backed Militias

  • On January 24, U.S. CENTCOM forces “conducted unilateral airstrikes against three facilities used by Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq.”
    • The paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which include Iran-backed Shia Muslim militias, said the strikes killed one of their fighters. Alternative sources cited two fatalities and four injuries.
    • The Iraqi government strongly condemned the strikes, identifying them as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
  • White House Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer expressed the need to respond, “to establish deterrence in these situations, and to hold these groups accountable that continue to attack us.”
  • These strikes come in response to the Iranian-backed groups’ ballistic missile and rocket attack on U.S. forces stationed at the al-Assad Airbase in Iraq, which occurred on January 20.
    • While most projectiles were intercepted by air defence systems, some “impacted” the base.
    • U.S. personnel were evaluated for traumatic brain injuries and at least one Iraqi service member was wounded.
    • This attack reflects one of the largest against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since October 7 and the second using ballistic missiles. Formerly, attacks had been executed with lower-tech rockets and drones.
  • Earlier this month, Iraq accused the U.S.-led coalition of a “blatant violation of sovereignty,” after American drone strikes caused the fatalities of two members of the PMF in eastern Baghdad.

Attacks on U.S. Forces Since October 7

  • In September 2023, “Iraqi paramilitaries, backed by Iran, had frozen their attacks on US troops in [Iraq].”
  • However, since October 7, Iranian-backed groups have conducted a minimum of 70 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.
    • When including operations against forces in both Iraq and Syria, the January 20 strikes on the al-Assad Airbase mark the 144th attack on U.S. troops in this timeframe.

Mixed Calls for U.S. Forces to Leave Iraq

  • Reporting from January 2024 cites that Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani “wants a quick and orderly negotiated exit of U.S-led military forces from its soil but has not set a deadline.”
    • This pressure partially stems from Iranian-linked Shi’ite Muslim factions.
  • The Iraqi government has sent mixed signals regarding the future of the U.S. military presence, while the Pentagon’s spokesperson stated the U.S. has no intention of leaving.
    • Iraq’s Prime Minister has reportedly shared his openness for U.S. presence in Iraq to American officials in private settings.
  • If U.S. troops were forced to leave Iraq, analysts predict that this would increase the likelihood that 900 – in this scenario, now isolated – American troops in Syria would withdraw as well.
  • Approximately 2,500 US troops are stationed in Iraq and roughly 900 in Syria.
    • The Pentagon “has long maintained that U.S. troops are in Iraq for the sole purpose of ensuring ISIS does not return.”


(Banner image: US Army/Spc. Jensen Guillory)

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