Iraqi Shia Militias Threaten to Strike US Forces: Assessment and Implications

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Written by Andrei Kulakov; Originally appeared at strategic-culture.org

In defiance of worldwide warnings, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The announcement prompted an almost universal diplomatic backlash and angered countries with significant Muslim populations. Most of the international community does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital until the issue is resolved through negotiations with the Palestinians. It’s not diplomatic protests only; the decision may spark a large-scale military conflict to dwarf the ongoing war against Islamic State and the conflict in Syria.

Iraqi Shia Militias Threaten to Strike US Forces: Assessment and Implications

Akram al-Kaabi, the leader of the Iran-backed Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba Shia group, said that President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was a “legitimate reason” to attack US forces in Iraq. With about 10,000 fighters, Nujaba is one of the most important militias in the country. Made up of Iraqis, it is loyal to Iran. The group is part of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a mostly Iranian-backed coalition of Shi‘ite militias that played a role in combating Islamic State. The PMF is government sanctioned and formally reports to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office. Nujaba has deployed forces in Syria in support of the Syrian government.

In November, Republican Senator Ted Poe introduced a bill to the US Congress, suggesting that the US government consider the Iraqi armed groups of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (Nujaba) and Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) as two proxies of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). United States has more than 5,200 troops deployed to Iraq. Nujaba’s leader Akram al-Kaabi was earlier sanctioned by the Treasury Department “for threatening the peace and stability of Iraq.”

Former Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, called Trump’s announcement a “declaration of war.” Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who heads his own militia, demanded the closure of the American embassy in Baghdad and warned that “we can reach Israel through Syria”. At the same time, the US president’s decision is by and large supported by Iraqi Kurds outraged about the campaign in support of Jerusalem and Palestinian rights while ignoring Kurdish rights.

It’s worth noting that it was not the first threat to strike US forces in the region, such warnings have been made before. On November 1, 2017, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar published an article quoting “Iraqi resistance” elements declaring their intent to attack US troops in Iraq. The PMU, made up of about 40 militias, were “preparing to reorganizing our ranks and preparing for the great conflict with the Americans.” Most, if not all, PMU factions perceive the US military presence in Iraq as an occupation.

President Trump granted US commanders the authority to order attacks in countries with American military presence on January 29. The United States is already involved in places such as Syria and the Persian Gulf where confrontation with Iran is looming. It greatly increases the risk of igniting a conflict in case of an accident.

If shooting starts, the US will fight the enemy, which is formally an element of the Iraqi regular army – a US ally. Billions of dollars in aid and advanced weaponry have gone to rebuilding the Iraqi armed forces over the last decade. The question is – will the US be at war with Iraq? The Iraqi government is hardly in a position to spoil the relations with the PMU and risk an internal unrest.

Will the clashes automatically lead to combat actions between the U.S and Iran spreading across the region? The Shia units have a large presence in Syria. If a conflict is sparked, it is likely to spread to Syria, with the US boosting its military presence in the country to negatively affect the Russia-initiated prospects for peace process. Armed opposition forces will seize the opportunities resulting from the US – Shia conflict.

With the Kurds supporting America on the Jerusalem issue, will the Kurdish peshmerga (paramilitary units) could be involved in fighting against Shiite formations. If the US forces are reinforced to fight the PMU, the temptation may be irresistible to recapture Kirkuk and the oil fields and make them a part of Kurdistan again.

Once the conflict will be a consequence of the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the PMU fighters will enjoy public support in Arab countries.

Another consequence – the fighting is likely to be followed by clashes between Israeli forces and Shia units in Syria. This may involve the Russia-supported Syrian government troops. The probability is great that, sooner or later, the situation will evolve to combat actions between US-Iran, Israel-Iran conflicts.

The fighting will spread to Lebanon where Shia Hezbollah enjoys great influence.

What is to be expected in the near future? The US will have to move increase its military presence in Iraq and Syria. American naval forces will move to take positions in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. The US is likely to avoid further aggravation of the situation in the Korean Peninsula not to be involved in two conflicts simultaneously.

The risk of a major war between the US and Iran will evolve according to certain scenarios and will have global consequences. There is a big chance that Iran will lead the Muslim world movement against the US and Israel provoked by the recognition of Jerusalem.

Actually, the recognition is not what it is at first glance if one goes to the bottom of it. But it is highly provocative and untimely. The decision has a lot of cons and few of pros and it is unlikely to benefit the United States but it is fraught with headaches. You reap what you sow. The US military is facing a real threat in Iraq. If it sparks, the consequences will be dire.

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  • hhabana

    Incredibly stupid decision by Trump. Trying to transfer lands of Palestinians to Jews. Both sides need to work out some type of truce. Like marriage, tolerance and patience. Together, they can become a powerhouse. Problem with both, lesser the Jews, is politics and religion are intertwined.

    • Antikapitalista

      Actually, this is not so much about Trump, as it is about the policies of the U.S.A. Trump merely stopped postponing the Jerusalem Embassy Act after 22 years. Similarly, the outrage is not as much about the embassy itself, as it is about all the other things written in the shameful act.

  • Manuel Flores Escobar

    Obviusly USA dont have capacity to occupy Iraq and fighting vs Shia militia ( 70% of population) beside ISIS have been defeated and it is difficult for USA to create a new sunni gangs to support US army there!…USA only can play the Kurdish cards but Turkey reject it!..Israel know that a war vs Hezbollah, SAA , Iran and palestinos at the same time…will be difficult for IDF to keep all open fronts for long time!

    • George King

      There is no Kurdish card to be played. Kurds are surrounded (land locked) by the Syrian Iraqi and Turkey nation states. The IDF can’t defend Israel’s cities, military installations nor population. Although US mainland is across an ocean or two Israel is up close and personal against those that can confront the bully and win after decades of studying their enemy.

  • Expo Marker

    Trump’s decision further proves that the greatest enemy is Israel and its ally, the United States.

    Ever since Donald Trump stepped into office, he has blundered in such a way that Iran+Russia+Syria have benefited every time! Most impressive!

    • You can call me Al

      Don’t forget China in that list.

  • 888mladen .

    Iraqi paramilitaries need MANPADs if they want to attack US occupying forces. That’s must.

    • PZIVJ

      Iraqi paramilitaries can not take a piss without govt approval in Iraq.
      Some are being disbanded, and others shout out with loud words.

    • George King

      The Misagh-2 is an Iranian man-portable infrared-guided surface-to-air missile. The Misagh-2 is the next version of the Misagh-1. Similar to its predecessor, the Misagh-2 is supposedly also based on Chinese technology. Iran’s defense minister launched the domestic mass production of the Misagh-2, on 5 February 2006 Operational range‎: ‎5 km Guidance system‎: ‎Fire and Forget
      Launch platform‎: ‎Man portable.

      Fire-and-forget is a type of missile guidance which does not require further guidance after launch such as illumination of the target or wire guidance, and can hit its target without the launcher being in line-of-sight of the target. This is an important property for a guided weapon to have, since a person or vehicle that lingers near the target to guide the missile (using, for instance, a laser designator) is vulnerable to attack and unable to carry out other tasks.

      Generally, information about the target is programmed into the missile just prior to launch. This can include coordinates, radar measurements (including velocity), or an infrared image of the target. After it is fired, the missile guides itself by some combination of gyroscopes and accelerometers, GPS, organic active radar homing, and infrared homing optics. Some systems offer the option of either continued input from the launch platform or fire-and-forget.

    • wwinsti

      No, it’s not. The Shia had all kinds of success fighting the US military when they numbered in the 50,000- 90,000 range. In the entire Iraq insurgency, there less than a dozen recorded uses of MANPADS. The insurgency still won.

      • Don’t read butthurt replies

        When was that?

        • wwinsti

          The airliner strike? 2003. I know there’s better footage of this hit, and the only youtube barely mentions the missile strike. This is the best I could do on short notice.

          https://youtu.be/GQbsceR1DiE

          If you referred to the US pullout, GWB had to sign an agreement with Maliki to remove most of the US troops from Iraq by 2014. Obama usually takes the blame for accidentally causing the formation of Isis by implementing the agreement in 14′. Of course we all know the creation of Isis by the CIA was on purpose, and done as an excuse to get US troops back into iraq

          • Don’t read butthurt replies

            “The Shia had all kinds of success fighting the US military when it numbered in the 50,000- 90,000 personnel range.”

            This was what I meant. Thanks for the other info too.

  • Barba_Papa

    Personally I think that if Iran has any influence with these hotheads its that it should tell them to back the fuck off! Don’t be like Saudi Arabia, which brainlessly runs into yet another war without thinking. Be the cold logical chess player who carefully masters his every move and who thinks ten games ahead. Because the American neocons are hungering for a casus belli with Iran. Don’t give them what they want, focus on the job at hand. Secure Iraq, Syria and the Shia land bridge. Let that be your answer. It will piss the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia off ten times more.

  • dutchnational

    IF PMU attacks US, then just bomb them into the ground. Like they did IS.

  • You can call me Al

    “Most, if not all, PMU factions perceive the US military presence in Iraq as an occupation.”

    So does the majority of the World’s population with an IQ over 80

  • RamboDave

    If hostility’s break out between the US and Iran (or between Iranian supported militias), the 5,200 US troops in Iraq will be sitting ducks.
    In this case, the best plan for the Iraqi PMU would then be, not to directly attack the US forces, but rather take them hostage. All the PMU has to do is set up fake checkpoints and wait for these guys to come through.
    If something like that happens, there will be a total and complete demand by Americans, especially those who elected Trump, to get the hell out of the Middle East. Americans are sick and tired of this endless war. They are at the tipping point right now.