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Iranian commander urged Iraqi militias to attack US troops, report says

Popular Mobilization Forces with Iranian advisors during Hawija offensive in 2017. (Dlshad Anwar/Voice of America/Released)
July 13, 2021

A senior Iranian military commander called on Iraqi Shia militias to step up attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq during a meeting last week, three militia sources and two Iraqi security sources familiar with the gathering told Reuters.

U.S. forces saw a string of attacks in Iraq and Syria last week, suspected of having been carried out by these Iran-linked Iraqi militias. The string of attacks coincided with a visit by an Iranian delegation led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s (IRGC) intelligence chief Hossein Taeb, Reuters reported.

A senior official in the region, who was briefed by Iranian authorities on Taeb’s visit, told Reuters that Taeb met several Iraqi militia leaders during the trip and shared “the supreme leader’s message to them about keeping up pressure on U.S. forces in Iraq until they leave the region.”

Three militia sources said Taeb advised the Iraqi militias on how to keep the overall intensity of their attacks low enough to not trigger a larger U.S. military retaliation.

While advising the Iraqi militias on how to keep their attacks from going too far and causing U.S. retaliation, Taeb did advise the militias to widen their attacks and target U.S. troops in Syria, said a senior local militia commander briefed on the meeting acting as one of Reuter’s three militia sources.

The visit by Iranian advisors came after a trio of U.S. airstrikes against Iran-backed militia sites along the Syrian-Iraqi border on June 27. Those U.S. airstrikes followed drone and rocket attacks by Iraqi militias in prior days and weeks. The Iran-backed militias reported at least four militia members were killed in the U.S. airstrikes.

Following the June 27 U.S. airstrikes, one Iran-backed militia vowed to “go to open war with the American occupation” and attack U.S. aircraft “in beloved Iraq’s sky.”

Last week, unidentified groups carried out at least four attacks on U.S. positions throughout Iraq. One attack, targeting Ain al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq resulted in injuries to three people, including two U.S. personnel.

Taeb is the head of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization. According to Reuters, Taeb is also a mid-ranking Shi’ite cleric and is seen by Iranian political insiders and Iran policy analysts as having close ties with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A senior official in the region told Reuters that Khamenei ordered Taeb to visit Iraq after visits there by IRGC Quds Force commander Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani failed to yield the level of escalation in fighting between the U.S. and Iraqi militias that Khamenei desired. Khamenei’s alleged involvement in Quds Force affairs comes more than a year after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran’s previous Quds Force commander Brig. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.