In response to Israel’s unprecedented bombardments and massacring of civilians in Palestine’s Gaza Strip, armed Iraqi factions aligned with Iran have pursued tens of attacks on military bases hosting United States forces in Iraq and Syria under the name of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. Who is this group?
Since 17 October, Iraqi militias claimed responsibility for several Katyusha rocket and drone attacks on at least three US bases in Iraq and another US base in Syria, announcing the end of a year-long fragile ceasefire as a direct consequence of Washington’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza.
The United States has some 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq as part of efforts to combat the Islamic State (ISIS), which once held significant territory in both countries but was pushed back by local forces supported by international air strikes.
Who is behind the Islamic Resistance in Iraq?
Initially, the Iraqi militias were using the name of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq to claim their responsibility, but as Israel continued to massacre civilians in Gaza and target hospitals, militia leaders publicly announced their involvement in not only targeting US forces in Iraq and Syria but also Israeli targets.
“The Iraqi Islamic Resistance decided to liberate Iraq militarily; this matter has been settled, blessed be the Mujahideen. There will be no stopping, no ceasefire, and no retreat,” Akram Al-Kaabi, leader of the Iran-backed militia Harakat al-Nujaba, said on 1 November in a post on the X platform, previously known as Twitter. He also threatened that the next phase of attacks would be “greater”.
Immediately, Ashab Al-Kahaf, another Iraqi militia that had announced multiple drone and missile attacks targeting bases hosting US forces in Iraq, joined Al-Kaabi’s call to fight against the US and the coalition forces in Iraq.
Al-Kaabi’s post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, indicated that he might be leading the Iraqi Islamic Resistance that had claimed responsibility for almost all the attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria. These attacks have left at least 24 US troops wounded in Iraq and Syria, according to US officials.
According to an analysis by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq is “an umbrella term used to describe the operations of all Iran-backed militias in Iraq,” and it directly takes orders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force.
Al-Kaabi is also the secretary of the Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee, which is an umbrella body gathering all Iraqi militias aligned with Iran and also known as the Axis of Resistance.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched its indiscriminate bombardments of the territory on 7 October, the day Hamas carried out a large-scale surprise attack on southern Israel, killing over 1,400 people and taking more than 200 others hostage.
The attack, Hamas says, came in retaliation for 17 years of Israeli blockade on Gaza and decades of occupation and aggression in the West Bank.
On 2 November 2023, Telegram channels affiliated with Iran-backed militias disseminated a declaration from the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, in which they took credit for an assault on a strategically “significant Israeli target” located along the shores of the Dead Sea.
“In a show of solidarity with our fellow compatriots in Gaza and in response to the grave injustices perpetrated by the occupying entity against Palestinian civilians, including children, women, and the elderly, the fighters of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq conducted an operation at dawn on 2 November,” reads the statement. “This operation targeted a vital Israeli objective on the Dead Sea coastline. The Islamic Resistance emphasises its commitment to dismantling enemy strongholds.”
Abu Ali Al-Askari, the head of the security office at Iraq’s Kata’ib Hezbollah, on 4 November, threatened they would respond with unprecedented actions and escalations if the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, whom he referred to as the “war minister of the Zionist regime” to visit Iraq.
He stated that such a visit would be deemed unacceptable and accused the US, along with its Western and regional allies, of “complicity in the brutal actions of the Zionist regime against Palestinians”.
Furthermore, Al-Askari pledged that the Iraqi resistance would actively work towards undermining US interests in Iraq and the broader region and would shut down the US embassy in Iraq through “our non-peaceful means.”
However, Blinken arrived in Baghdad late on Sunday and immediately met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani and left the country shortly after the meeting.
The Iraqi government is caught in the middle
“During the meeting, they discussed the escalating developments in the Gaza Strip and stressed the necessity of containing the crisis and preventing its expansion,” Sudani’s media office said. “Sudani reaffirmed Iraq’s clear and principled stance against the Zionist aggression on Gaza and the immediate need for a ceasefire.”
Speaking to the journalists in Baghdad, Blinken said he had a productive meeting with Sudani, focusing on the US commitment to the Iraq partnership and addressing security concerns. He also said that he had sent a clear message against threats from Iranian-aligned militias, emphasising the US’s readiness to protect their personnel in Iraq, indicating that Sudani shared their condemnation of such attacks.
With the arrival of Blinken to Baghdad, prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to urgently gather at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to peacefully protest against the visit to Iraq.
Sadr previously called on Iraq’s parliament and government to vote on shutting down the US embassy in Baghdad.
The Iraqi government is totally against any escalation with the US forces and with Israel because it is concerned any conflict would eventually destroy Iraq politically, economically, and socially.
Sudani has asked the Iraqi militias to cease attacks on military bases hosting the US and international coalition military advisers, saying those forces are in Iraq as per a formal request from his government.
Sudani visits Iran
Sudani visited Iran on 5 November in a bid to ask Tehran to deter the Iraqi militias from further complicating the situation for his government.
Sudani has met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
According to Iraqi social media users, Sudani failed to convince Khamenei to urge the Iraqi militias to stop their attacks against US targets.
On Tuesday, he met with members of the ruling CF to discuss the situation in Iraq and the results of his meetings with the US and Iranian officials.
Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Iran-backed Badr Organization, recently issued a statement warning that “it is time for the international coalition forces to leave Iraq,” asking the Iraqi government “to set a serious, specific and short-term timetable” for this exit.
He also justified attacks against those forces as a “natural reaction to the bias of America and some European countries toward the usurping Zionist entity.”
Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) were set on maximum alert on Thursday, 2 November, as concerns grow that Israel’s brutal war on Gaza will expand into a regional conflict.
Deputy commander and PMF chief of staff Abdul Aziz al-Muhammadawi, also known as Abu Fadak, on 2 November held an urgent security meeting with PMF’s top commanders in which he stressed the current conditions in the region are alarming for war as a consequence of Israel’s relentless war on Palestine and Gaza strip.
He also said that they should support the Palestinians and protect the sovereignty of Iraq. He also announced that the PMF forces went on maximum alert “to defend the Iraqi territories and the independence of the country” in a reference to the US military existence in Iraq.
The recent threats from Iraq were congratulated by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who noted in his speech on Friday, 3 November, that “the Iraqi resistance started to take its responsibility,” and whilst these attacks have not yet caused US casualties or elicited a hardline US response, there is a danger of escalation.
Speaking to The New Arab, Ben Connable, a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council and Adjunct Security Studies Professor at Georgetown University, affirmed, “If the US wanted to retaliate far more broadly and violently, it could do so rather quickly.”
However, the US hasn’t, and this is likely due to political decisions in Washington. These are “carefully calculated responses and show restraint,” according to Connable.
“A direct retaliation, even though the physical capacity is available globally, is a fraught option because of the degree we’ve drawn down our presence in Iraq,” he said.
That presence in Iraq consists of around 2,500 personnel who train and consult the Iraqi army in its fight against ISIS.
And yet, if “US troops are actually harmed in a significant number [by an attack], this will demand an attack and a response from the US government,” according to Middle East Deputy Editor at New Lines Magazine Rasha al-Aqeedi, who spoke with TNA.
She also stated that a serious escalation on the part of the US “does not sound like a realistic plan because there’s so much public opposition to it, and it puts more soldiers in harm’s way if the situation in the region escalates.”
“Increasing their presence as in double downing against the resistance sounds more like an escalation between the US and these factions and the US and Iran,” she added.
On Sunday, Iran’s Minister of Defense Mohamad-Reza Ashtiani stated, “Our advice to the Americans is to immediately stop the war in Gaza and implement a ceasefire; otherwise, they will be hit hard.”
His comments were made the same day as Islamic Resistance of Iraq’s ‘Al-Zafirin Group’ conducted a mortar attack on the US base of Ain al-Asad in Iraq’s Anbar province.
Source : The New Arab