Iran-Backed Militias Continue Attacks on U.S. Outposts in Iraq

U.S. Army helicopter crew members look out of their Chinook helicopter as they fly from the U.S. Embassy to Baghdad International airport
U.S. Army helicopter crew members look out of their Chinook helicopter as they fly from the U.S. Embassy to Baghdad International airport / Getty Images

Iran-backed militias continue to wage attacks on American outposts in Iraq, according to senior U.S. officials.

James Jeffrey, the Trump administration’s special representative for Syria engagement and special envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, said the United States continues to experience targeted strikes by Iran-backed militia groups seeking to foment unrest in Iraq.

In the weeks since U.S. forces killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, Iran-backed militants have scaled down their attacks but continue to launch strikes at U.S. positions in the war-torn country, Jeffrey told reporters in a briefing.

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"In terms of attacks, we’ve seen a few shellings of coalition—or bases where coalition forces are located," Jeffrey said on Thursday. "Other than several at the American embassy compound a couple of days ago, they have been intermittent, the kind of thing that we have—or all been used to in our years in Iraq. Nothing like the very targeted, precise, 30-plus rocket attacks we were seeing in those 11 incidents that led up to our response last month, so—this month. So—well, last month and this month. But so for the moment, that front is fairly quiet."

Asked if these attacks have been orchestrated by Iran, Jeffrey told reporters, "We think so."

The United States, while still engaged in the fight to defeat the ISIS terror group in Iraq, remains primarily focused on protecting American forces in the region from retaliatory strikes by Iran.

"The focus of our forces right now is force protection," Jeffrey said. "They suffered first 11 quite serious attacks from Iranian-supported militias, who are by and large parts of the Iraqi security system, then the assault on the embassy, then the two Iranian long-range intermediate missile strikes on our forces in Erbil and Ayn al-Asad. So in a situation like that, obviously, the commanders are going to focus, as they have so successfully, on force protection. And as the threat diminishes, they’ll review that."

In addition to the threat posed by Iran, U.S. officials remain concerned ISIS could bounce back following major territorial defeats in the past year.

"The risk of the resurgence of ISIS is a very big problem," Jeffrey said. "We have emphasized that ever since the physical caliphate was defeated along the Euphrates in March of last year. We are very concerned about the number of forces there and how they coordinate among each other. The Iraqis are concerned about that. Our SDF partners in northeast Syria are concerned about that. The Turks are concerned about that because they now have forces in the northeast. Everyone is looking into this and watching it closely."