Iran-backed militia in Iraq vows to continue attacks on US forces as White House mulls military action

Sheikh Akram Al-Kaabi, leader of the Al-Nujaba militant group, attends a ceremony honoring members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards killed in Iraq, on April 24, 2019.

Sheikh Akram Al-Kaabi, leader of the Al-Nujaba militant group, attends a ceremony honoring members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards killed in Iraq, on April 24, 2019. Murtaja Lateef/EPA-EFE/ShutterstockCNN — 

An Iran-backed militia in Iraq has said it will continue to strike United States forces as the Biden administration considers how to retaliate against a drone attack on its base in Jordan that killed three US service members last week.

The leader of the Al-Nujaba militant group, Akram Al-Kaabi, said it won’t follow a decision this week by Iran’s most powerful Iraqi proxy, Kataib Hezbollah, to suspend operations against US forces in the region.

Al-Kaabi said that attacks against the US won’t stop until American troops withdraw from Iraq, and Israeli military operations cease in Gaza, according to a statement on Friday.

The move suggests that Iran may not be fully in control of some of the militant groups it funds, trains and arms in the region, as some continue to target US forces despite the risk of a significant escalation that could draw Iran and the US into a direct confrontation.

In this photo posted to social media platform X on Monday, January 29, US President Joe Biden is briefed by members of his national security team in the Situation Room on the latest developments regarding the attack on US service members in northeastern Jordan. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines are also visible in the photo, while nameplates indicate the presence of National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, among others.

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The US believes an umbrella group of Iran-backed militants called Islamic Resistance in Iraq was behind the strike on the Jordan base and is now preparing to respond. The assault was the most serious of many targeting US forces in the Middle East since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, and the first in which US troops have died.

Al-Kaabi, who is listed by the US as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), added that US threats will not intimidate his group. “Any targeting will be met with an appropriate response,” he said.

US officials believe there are signs the Iranian leadership is nervous about some of the actions of its proxy groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, according to multiple people familiar with US intelligence, as attacks from militia groups threaten to disrupt the global economy.

Iran has repeatedly said that it does not seek conflict. On Friday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said his country will not initiateany war but will “respond strongly” to bullies.

“We have said many times that we will not start any war; but if an oppressive country or force wants to bully us, the Islamic Republic of Iran will respond strongly,” he said in a televised speech in the southern Iranian Hormozgan province.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps military personnel salute while a group of schoolboys and schoolgirls (not pictured) chanting Hymn Hello Commander, in the Azadi (Freedom) avenue during a rally commemorating Eid al-Ghadir in Tehran, July 7, 2023.

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Since October 7 and the start of the war in Gaza, American troops have come under attack approximately 166 times in Iraq and Syria, US officials said. The US has meanwhile carried out a series of strikes in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Yemen’s Houthis have also continued to attack US interests despite multiple airstrikes by US and UK forces.

Last month, a US strike in Iraq killed two members of Al-Nujaba, including a prominent commander of who was actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel, a US defense official said at the time. The US has also targeted Kataib Hezbollah.

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