Shift in strategy: Iran-backed Iraqi militia halts operations against US forces

The Iraqi government has publicly advocated for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a sentiment that may gain further traction in light of recent events.

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Image Credit: The Brookings Institution

In a surprising turn of events, Kataib Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed militia in Iraq, declared a halt to its military actions against U.S. forces stationed in the region. This announcement came in the wake of a drone attack that resulted in the death of three U.S. service members and left dozens injured.

The militia stated on Tuesday, “We are announcing the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces (U.S. troops)—in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government.” The group also indicated its continued support for Gaza through other means and advised the Free Hezbollah Brigades to engage in passive defense in case of hostile American actions.

Kataib Hezbollah is recognized as a dominant force within the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella organization consisting of various Iran-backed militias. The United States has long accused Iran of providing support to these groups, with Kataib Hezbollah being specifically implicated in recent attacks on U.S. personnel.

In response to the militia’s statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder remarked, “We’ve seen those reports. I don’t have a specific comment to provide other than actions speak louder than words.” Ryder reiterated the U.S. call for an end to attacks by Iranian proxy groups, warning of a response at a time and manner of the U.S.’s choosing.

Since the onset of the Gaza war, U.S. troops in the Middle East have been subjected to approximately 166 attacks, as reported by U.S. officials. Following the drone strike that claimed the lives of three U.S. service members in Jordan, there have been three additional attacks, according to Ryder.

Kataib Hezbollah also sought to distance Iran from the series of attacks carried out in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 17, claiming full autonomy in their operations. “Our brothers in the axis—especially in the Islamic Republic—do not know how we work jihad, and they often object to the pressure and escalation against the American occupation forces in Iraq and Syria,” the group stated.

The rationale behind Kataib Hezbollah’s decision to suspend operations remains unclear. However, Hisham Al-Rikabi, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, attributed the decision to the prime minister’s diplomatic efforts, stating, “This is the result of the efforts made by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani internally and externally with different forces and parties in Iraq.”

With the U.S. and Iraq poised to commence discussions on the future of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, this development could significantly influence the talks. The Iraqi government has publicly advocated for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a sentiment that may gain further traction in light of recent events.

“This is the result of the efforts made by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani internally and externally with different forces and parties in Iraq, and calls made by the Iraqi government to avoid escalation and avoid causing more tension to ensure the smoothness of the negotiation process and in order to complete the withdrawal (of U.S. troops) from Iraq,” adviser, Hisham Al-Rikabi, told CNN on Tuesday in reaction to the announcement.

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