Iraqi Shia Militia Attacks Create Atmosphere of Uncertainty

Photo of Al-Nujaba Movement forces (from PMF) in the Makhul Mountains of Salah al-Din province, one kilometer from the ISIL Front, 6 July 2016.

“Anxiety is rising in Iraq in general… [prompting] the faction leaders to change their tactics and movements and attempt to take stricter security measures to avoid being targeted by America.…”

Strikes and counterstrikes involving U.S. forces and so-called Iraqi “Islamic Resistance” factions of Shia militias may lead militant leaders to seek cover with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in ways that would likely strain U.S.-ISF relations. The first accompanying report, from the Qatari-aligned al-Araby al-Jadeed, claims that Islamic Resistance factions are seeking to safeguard their weapons from U.S. strikes by transferring them to ISF bases under Iraqi Defense Ministry control. The Islamic Resistance is a branding name used by various Iran-led militant Shia Iraqi groups, most prominently Kataib Hezbollah (KH) and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HAN).[i] These militias exert substantial influence in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which are an appendage of the ISF akin to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.[ii] As PMF units, the Islamic Resistance factions are part of the Iraqi state, but their interests and actions are rarely aligned or coordinated with those of the State apparatus writ large. Since the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, the Islamic Resistance has conducted regular attacks on U.S. positions in Syria and Iraq. The attacks escalated in late January 2024, when an unmanned aerial vehicle attributed to KH killed three U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Jordan. In response, U.S. forces killed Abu Baqir al-Saadi, a KH official involved in planning the attacks. The strike followed an earlier one targeting a HAN leader. Both strikes occurred in Baghdad, prompting Iraqi government officials to publicly denounce them as violations of national sovereignty. Islamic Resistance and other Iraqi Shia militias in turn intensified pressure on their government to negotiate a withdrawal of U.S. troops and launch an investigation into the targeted killings. As reported in the second accompanying article, also from al-Araby al-Jadeed, KH also launched an investigation aimed at identifying and rooting out U.S. collaborators within the Islamic Resistance. As noted in the third accompanying article, from the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, the Islamic Resistance’s attacks and threats may be used to sow distrust between the United Stats and ISF partner forces. The escalatory tit-for-tat between the Islamic Resistance and U.S. forces is ushering in an atmosphere of increasing uncertainty and distrust in Iraq, further complicating what is already a tangled and potentially volatile security environment.


العراق: فصائل مسلحة تضغط لنقل مستودعات أسلحتها إلى قواعد الجيش لتجنّب القصف الأميركي

“Iraq: Armed factions are pressing to transfer their weapons depots to army bases to avoid American bombing,” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 6 January 2024.

Today, Sunday, Iraqi security sources in Baghdad revealed to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense was under pressure to transfer ammunition depots belonging to armed factions to Iraqi army bases and camps to prevent them from being targeted in the future by American aircraft.

العراق: تحقيقات سرية بحثاً عن “متعاونين” مع واشنطن بتنفيذ عمليات الاغتيال “Iraq: Secret investigations in search of “collaborators” with Washington in carrying out the assassination operations,” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 11 February 2024.

The source told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, on condition that his name not be mentioned, that “the accuracy of choosing the targets and the accuracy of carrying out the assassination operations indicated the presence of a dangerous infiltration and collaborators who provided accurate information to Washington to carry out its strikes”… 

Anxiety is rising in Iraq in general, and among the factions in particular, which fear assassinations and other strikes that may be carried out by the United States of America, whose drones roam the skies of Baghdad on an almost daily basis. This has prompted the faction leaders to change their tactics and movements and attempt to take stricter security measures to avoid being targeted by America.

عزل أميركي للعراقيين خشية «الاختراق»: المقاومة تضمّ «السفارة» إلى بنك الأهداف “American isolation of the Iraqis for fear of ‘infiltration’: The resistance includes the ‘embassy’ in the target bank,” al-Akhbar (pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily), 9 February 2024.

…an Iraqi military official from the security crews residing inside the Ain al-Assad base (west of Baghdad), in an interview with Al-Akhbar, recounts his observations. Since the beginning of the base being subjected to missile strikes, he said, “The American forces have dealt with us with constant caution, and have their own security protocol in terms of inspecting all those entering and leaving the base. But after the recent attacks, it increased its measures in a way that we did not witness even two years ago, when Iran bombed the base with a large number of ballistic missiles”…

He explains that “the American side deals with the Iraqi side with suspicion in terms of exchanging information, for fear of it being leaked to parties linked to the armed factions.” 


[i] Of the two, HAN has been by far the most hardline and active member of the “Islamic Resistance” since 7 October. See: “Who Are Nujaba and Why Did the U.S. Just Strike Them?” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 4 January 2024. In late January, KH vowed to suspend attacks against the United States. HAN, in contrast, vowed to continue its attacks. See: “Explaining Apparent Muqawama De-Escalation Since January 28,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 7 February 2024.

[ii] “KH operates the state-funded 45th, 46th, and 47th Brigades of the PMF. Chain of command nominally runs through the KH-dominated Popular Mobilization Committee in the Prime Minister’s Office. In practice, KH’s PMF brigades frequently disobey the government chain of command while legally remaining organs of the Iraqi state.” See: “Profile: Kataib Hezbollah,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1 April 2021.

For an up-to-date overview on Iraq’s militia landscape, see: “Iraq’s New Regime Change: How Tehran-Backed

Terrorist Organizations and Militias Captured the Iraqi State,” CTC Sentinel, December 2023.

Image Information:

Image:  Photo of Al-Nujaba Movement forces (from PMF) in the Makhul Mountains of Salah al-Din province, one kilometer from the ISIL Front, 6 July 2016.
Attribution: Fars Media Corporation, CC BY 4.0