An Iranian-supported militia group in Iraq has threatened retaliation against the United States if Israel carries out any strikes against Iranian military personnel and assets inside Iraq, Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) reported. “America is seeking to bring Iran under a siege in the region,” Mohammad Muha-yi, the spokesman of Iraqi Hezbollah, reportedly told al-Mayadeen TV, an outlet linked with the Lebanese Hezbollah. The militia commander further warned that the group will hold the United States responsible for any Israeli attacks on the Iraqi soil. America will play a “behind-the-scenes role if such an attack happens,” it added. He also called on the Baghdad government to retaliate against any potential “Israeli aggression” in Iraq.
Comment: The militia commander’s remarks came after Kuwaiti outlet al-Jarida reported that Israel has prepared a list of military posts and border crossings inside Iraq which, according to the Israeli government, are used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to transfer weapons and combatants to Syria. Quoting anonymous sources, the paper said it had received satellite images of Iranian bases in Iraq which are on the Israeli target list.
The comments by the Iraqi Hezbollah come at a time when Israel has increasingly been targeting Iranian military bases and Iranian-led forces inside Syria. On Monday, Israeli jets reportedly hit a production facility in northwest Syria allegedly run by the IRGC. The frequency and scope of Israeli attacks against Iranian-led forces and Iran’s efforts to retaliate have raised the risk of a direct military confrontation between the two countries.
Tension between Tehran and Washington in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal is also escalating. After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz to disrupt global oil shipments if Iran is prevented from exporting its own oil and warned Washington not to “play with lion’s tail,” President Donald Trump last night warned Tehran of dire consequences if it make threats against the U.S.
Iranian leaders have repeatedly hinted that they would retaliate against American forces and interests in the region if Washington or Israel conducts a military attack against the country. Lately, Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq have dialed up propaganda against American forces training and advising Iraqi security forces and have doubled up pressure on the Baghdad government to draw a timetable for the exit of foreign troops.
Kata'ib Hezbollah, or the Hezbollah Brigades, is an Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia group that operates both in Iraq and Syria. The group is a unit within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.), but it receives its instructions more from Tehran than Baghdad.
The group has a long history of committing acts of terrorism against U.S. forces in Iraq. In 2009, the U.S. Departments of Treasury and State designated Kata'ib Hezbollah as a terrorist entity for having “committed, directed, supported, or posed a significant risk of commit acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.” In the wake of the 2003 Iraqi invasion, the group’s cell members carried out numerous attacks against U.S. forces. According to U.S. officials, Iran’s elite Quds Force funded and trained members of the group jointly with the Lebanese Hezbollah.