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 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.