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February 20, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8572

In Iraq, At Least 10 Attacks On U.S.- Led Forces Since Soleimani's Killing; Shi'ite Militias Ramp Up Threats

February 20, 2020
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 8572

Since the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) deputy commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, Iran-backed Shi'ite militias in Iraq have been issuing series of threats against the U.S. and its allies.[1]

Following the decision by Iraq's parliament to end the U.S. military presence, the level and frequency appeared to have declined, with Shi'ite militia leaders claiming that they are willing to give the Iraqi government the opportunity to pursue a diplomatic arrangement that would ensure a peaceful exit of U.S. forces from Iraq. However, they warned that if the government's efforts to do so fails, they would not hesitate to resort to military action.

Over the past weeks, the U.S. military and Iraqi security acknowledged that there have been several missile attacks on U.S. military targets inside Iraq, along with an IED ambush against a U.S. military supply convoy in south Baghdad.

Shi'ite militias denied responsibility for these attacks, saying that they "do not match the magnitude of the crime committed by the U.S." and that such "reckless" acts do not serve their interests because they "could expose PMU leaders to the same fate as Soleimani and Al-Muhandis."

It should be noted that even in the months prior to the killing of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis, Katyusha rockets had been fired at U.S. targets.

After the February 11 public commemoration marking 40 days since the killing of the two,[2] some Shi'ite militias commanders started to backtrack from their earlier statements that they would allow the government of Iraq a chance to expel U.S. forces diplomatically, and again resorted to threats. The escalated rhetoric clearly underlines their willingness to strike, now that they have absorbed the shock of the initial U.S. response that led to the killing of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis. They also appear to be counting on the recent U.S. Senate resolution to curb President Trump's war powers, thinking that they can continue to get away with "small" rocket attacks.

Recent Threats By Shi'ite Militias

The Al-Nujaba Movement

At a February 15 conference in Tehran, Al-Nujaba secretary-general Akram Al-Kaabi said that after the death of Soleimani, "the resistance has gone from defense to offense in order to show the American forces that the road to Baghdad airport, where Soleimani was killed, is the Americans' road to Hell." 

Stating that "the resistance has resumed its covert modus operandi and will once again carry out operations against U.S. forces and document these operations on video," he added that a decisive, high-profile attack would be carried out, that the Americans would lose the upcoming war of attrition, and that the IEDs, rockets, and bullets of the resistance will chase the American forces out of Iraq as they had in 2011.[3]

On February 17, Al-Nujaba political council member Haydar Al-Lami said that the Iraqi response to the killing of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis had been postponed due to "logistical matters" but added, "We have targets."

He continued: "We have goals and full information about the U.S. presence in Iraq, as well as accurate information about all U.S. travels and their goals, and we have control even on airlines' [flight] path, in which the drones fly. The response to America's crime will be strong and will be announced officially."

Furthermore, the group, which appears to be more vocal in issuing threats than other Shi'ite armed factions, tweeted a video on February 14, 2020 titled "We Are Ready For A Great Epic Battle.  The video announced that its fighters are ready to attack U.S. interests in Iraq.[4]


Still image from the video, showing Al-Kaabi against a backdrop of signs to Baghdad airport and coffins draped with U.S. flags

The same day, Al-Nujaba also tweeted a poster featuring a photo of a U.S. military vehicle at Ain Al-Assad Airbase in western Iraq, where U.S. troops are posted, and that was struck by Iranian missiles on January 8, 2020. The poster, which shows the vehicle in a red circle and notes that the photo, apparently from a night-vision camera, was taken February 14, 2020, stated: "A U.S. Vehicle in Ain Al-Assad – We Are Lying In Wait For You."[5]


Al-Nujba' poster (Source: Twitter.com)

On February 18, Al-Nujaba released a 16-second video showing a U.S. helicopter landing at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The footage concluded with text stating: "We Are Lying In Wait For You."[6]


Footage shows a helicopter landing at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

On February 18, Al-Nujaba media officer Bashar Al-Sa'idi tweeted a poster showing Al-Kaabi in combat uniform at a podium and President Trump sitting next to him in a chair on the stage.  Text on the wall behind the men reads "Zero Hour Countdown." The poster was tweeted with the message "We betray no one, not even our enemy. The Americans must understand that we are drawing very near to them. We have rights, and we shall restore our rights."

On February 19, Al-Sa'idi tweeted a quote by Al-Kaabi with a map showing Iran's proxy factions in the region. The tweet reads: "The West Asian region is the battleground of the resistance empire, and its capital is the Islamic Republic [of Iran]."[7]


Al-Sa'idi's tweet

Hezbollah Brigades

On February 18, Hezbollah Brigades Iraq spokesman Jaafar Al-Husseini told the pro-Iran Al-Maydeen TV that leaders of the Iraqi resistance factions had met in Qom and Baghdad to discuss ways of expelling U.S. forces from Iraq. He said: "the preparations for a confrontation with the Americans were completed years ago, and the form of this confrontation is clear to the Iraqi resistance factions, and the timing is to be determined by these factions."

Stressing that "the Iraqi resistance factions have the power to drive out American forces in a way that Washington could  never imagine," he added that "the Iraqi resistance has taken some measures on the ground to monitor the U.S. forces and their presence in the country." He also noted: "The Iraqi presence in border cities with Syria is meant to prevent the U.S. forces from moving and establishing military bases."[8]

Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq Movement

In a February 8 television interview, Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq secretary-general Qais Al-Khazali said: "A decision has been made to postpone the military response [to the Americans]. When we reach [a decision] ... There is no specific time [frame]. It could be a week. It could be a month."

Explaining that his armed faction has the missile capability necessary for a war of attrition against the U.S., he added that "the resistance factions will be targeting the U.S. economic interests inside Iraq and the rest of the region."[9]

Attacks On U.S. And Coalition Targets

As mentioned, along with the threats from the factions, Katyusha rockets are reportedly still being fired at U.S. targets, although no group has so far claimed responsibility for them, and militia leaders are renouncing the firing.

It is clear that the firing of the Katyushas is aimed at testing the U.S.'s response.

On January 4, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III acknowledged that there had been two rocket attacks near military bases in Baghdad and Balad that host coalition forces.[10]

On January 6, two rockets struck near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, hours after the ambassador was summoned by the Iraqi government over a U.S. strike that killed a top Iranian commander.[11].

On January 8, the OIR spokesman tweeted: "the military coalition confirms small rockets impacted near Baghdad’s International Zone, Jan. 8 at 11:45 p.m. (Baghdad Time). No Coalition casualties or damage to facilities." He also quoted a tweet by the Iraqi security account on twitter claiming that "two Katyusha missiles landed inside the Green Zone."[12]

On January 14, he tweeted that a "small" missile attack had struck Al-Taji military base, north Baghdad, which hosts coalition forces, but that no casualties were reported. He quoted a tweet by an Iraqi security Twitter account stating that the missiles had been Katyushas.[13]

On January 26, five Katyusha rockets crashed into a riverbank near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, according to a statement from U.S. Joint Operations Command. According to an Iraqi security official, one of them landed inside the embassy walls.[14]

On January 31, Iraqi security said five mortars had landed near Al-Qayyarah airfield in Mosul, which hosts coalition forces.[15]

On February 10, the Lebanese pro-Iranian Al-Mayadeen TV reported that an IED explosion had targeted a U.S. convoy in south Baghdad. The convoy, it said, was carrying military supplies to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. According to the report, one vehicle was damaged and there were no casualties.


Al-Mayadeen report (Source: Al-Mayadeen.net)

On February 13, the OIR spokesman tweeted: "1 small rocket impacted the Iraqi base hosting Coalition troops in Kirkuk (K1) at 8:14 p.m. (Iraq Time). No casualties or damage to facilities. The Iraqi security claimed that "a missile launcher with 11 unfired missiles were found nearby the base."[16]


OIR spokesman's tweet

The OIR spokesman also tweeted, on February 15, about another "small" missile attack against a military base hosting coalition forces that is located inside the international green zone in Baghdad.[17]

A tweet about the same attack by Iraqi security explained that three Katyusha missiles had fallen inside the International Green Zone and another had missile landed on PMU headquarters in Baghdad. No casualties were reported, it said.[18]


Iraqi security tweet  

 

[4] Twitter.com/Basharsaad19851/status/1228769077281333249, February 15, 2020.

[5] Twitter.com/Basharsaad19851/status/1228727897516642306; February 15, 2020.

[6] Twitter.com/Basharsaad19851/status/1229806373032079360, February 18, 2020.

[7] Twitter.com/Basharsaad19851/status/1230112347936755713, February 18,2020.

[8] Aalmayadeen.net, February 18,2020.

[10] Twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1213607230538502148, January 4, 2020.

12 Ii24news, January 26, 2020

[12] Twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1215050589140373505, January 8, 2020.

[13] Twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1217179133677113345, January 14, 2020.

[14] Aljazeera.com, January 26,2020.

[15] Twitter.com/SecMedCell/status/1223344663102468096, January 31, 2020.

[16] Twitter.com/SecMedCell/status/1228031749550223360, February 13, 2020.

[17] Twitter.com/OIRSpox/status/1228076054729891840, February 13, 2020.

[18] Twitter.com/SecMedCell/status/1228031749550223360, February 13, 2020.

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