What is the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” Which Claimed Deadly Attack on US Troops?

Published by IranWire

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States have been engaged in an indirect conflict for years, with fire being exchanged between militias backed by Tehran and US soldiers based in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. But the Sunday drone attack that targeted US soldiers near the Jordanian-Syrian border is unique: It resulted in the loss of American lives – the first US fatalities caused by Tehran-backed groups in the region since the Israel-Hamas war started on October 7.  This has led several US senators openly calling on the Biden administration to strike Iranian territory. Iran is now threatened with war due to the actions of an Iraqi group. 

But what is the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” the group that has claimed the attacks? 

Rooted in History 

After Iran, Iraq is the second-biggest Shia majority country in the world. Ever since its foundation in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has tried to organize military and political groups amongst the Iraqi Shia. 

This task has been made much easier since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the overthrow of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. With Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) directly entering the country, Tehran has been able to build up a network of old and new Iraqi political groups that now wield massive influence in the country. 

Many Iraqis have tried to counter Iranian dominance in recent years, as seen especially during the 2019 mass protests. This movement led to the premiership of Mustafa Kadhimi (2020-2022.) – the first post-2003 Iraqi prime minister who wasn’t beholden to Tehran in any way. 

When they went to the polls, the Iraqis rejected pro-Tehran Iraqi parties but the latter were able to use a variety of tactics to not allow the formation of a government without them. Ultimately, the premiership passed to Muhammad al-Sudani, who is generally aligned with Tehran and is backed by pro-Khamenei Iraqi militias. 

These pro-Tehran groups now control the government while also wielding massive extra-governmental and extra-legal power in the country. 

During the long years of the Syrian civil war, these Iraqi militias also entered Syrian territory and now form a core part of the powerful multi-national army built by Qassem Soleimani, the former head of the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force who was killed in a US drone attack near Baghdad in January 2020. 

But Iraq is also the most discordant and unruly part of the Axis of Resistance. Unlike Lebanon, where all pro-Tehran forces were united into a single organization, Hezbollah, these forces in Iraq continue to boast several different groups rooted in personal egos and history of disagreements crystallized during the long years of pre-2003 exile in Europe, Iran and Syria. What these groups have in common, despite their difference, is their support for the ideology of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and his successor Ali Khamenei, as well as the support by the IRGC, which also tries to coordinate between them. 

In recent years, they’ve set up the Coordinating Committee of Iraqi Resistance, which consist of five major organizations: Asaeb Ahl-e Haq led by Qais Khazali; Hezbollah Movement led by Akram al-Kaabi; Imam Ali Brigades led by Shibl al-Zaydi; Hezbollah Brigades led by Ahmad al-Hamidawi (this organization was created by the personal initiative of Soleimani and his Iraqi partner, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed alongside him); and Seyed al-Shuhada Brigades ld headed by Abu Ala al-Walayi. 

These five groups sometimes take actions that are not supported by all of the groups inside the umbrella grouping. They are unruly enough to occasionally escape discipline by the IRGC and Khamenei. 

They’ve also adopted a new tactic in recent years, using a generic name that would avoid any one group being seen as the main perpetrator of attacks. “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” used since around 2020, is one such name. It’s both an umbrella term for pro-Tehran Iraqi militias and an attempt to avoid specific responsibility. 

Although Tehran claims it had “nothing to do” with the Sunday attack in Jordan, the statements of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq are supportively published by IRGC-linked media such as the Tasnim News Agency. The Islamic Republic minced no words in support of these attacks. 

The “Islamic Resistance” attacks on Americans have been going on since October. Even before the Sunday attack, at least 70 Americans had been wounded in attacks although, according to the Pentagon, these were light injuries except for a US soldier who was critically injured on Christmas Day during a drone strike on a base in Erbil. There was also a US contractor who died of a heart attack caused by strikes in October. 

The “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” accepted responsibility for a drone and rocket strike on US forces on October 18. Four days later, the same group attacked the famed Ayn-Assad base in Iraq. Camp Victory in Baghdad International Airport, which had not been attacked since January 2022, was attacked during the recent conflict, at the very moment when Biden was giving a speech in the Oval Office. 

Amongst the bases under continuous attacks is the al-Tanf base in Syria near the country’s borders with Iraq and Jordan. US forces in Deir al-Zour (where the US backs an administration led by a group of left-wing Kurdish groups) have also come under fire.

In the past few months, experts have warned about Iraqi groups escalating the situation. But Tehran wants to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel, which is why it hasn’t opened a front in the north of Israel via Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Iraqi groups meanwhile have continuously stepped up their attacks. On October 27, they also hosted a Hamas delegation of five officials which visited Iraq. It was led by leading Hamas official Osame Hamdan and others from Hamas’s Arab and Islamic Ties Bureau. 

As it responds to numerous attacks by Iraqi militias on its forces, the US has tried not to get into a direct conflict with Iran. This led to an angry tirade by Sheikh Khazali on November 27: “When the American forces in Syria ‘come under attack,’ quote unquote, and they say that Iranians or Iran-backed groups bombarded the [US] bases in Syria, the Americans respond [to those attacks]. However, they are very accurate in their response. They target empty camps so as not to kill any Iranian. But when they come under attack [from Iraqi groups], and not one American is killed, Iraqi blood has no value to them.”

It’s not yet clear whether the Sunday attacks were pre-approved by Tehran. What is certain is that Iran now finds itself under the threat of war thanks to Khamenei and the Axis of Resistance. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *