Beyond rhetoric: Iraq’s resistance front expands to US-Israeli war on Gaza

The Cradle, November 16, 2023 —

For the first time ever, the Iraqi resistance is throwing its military weight directly behind its Palestinian counterpart by positioning troops on two of Israel’s borders and intensifying strikes on US occupation forces.

Since 17 October, Iraqi resistance factions have actively engaged in the West Asian conflicts that have unfolded in the aftermath of the Hamas-led resistance operation Al-Aqsa Flood.

Operating as part of the region’s Axis of Resistance, these factions launched approximately 50 attacks on US military bases in Syria and Iraq, utilizing drones and Grad and Katyusha missiles. They have also threatened to employ precise long- and medium-range missiles against these targets. One notable incident resulted in 20 US soldiers being injured, as acknowledged by the US Department of Defense.

The Iraqi resistance has also initiated marches toward Israeli military bases in the occupied Palestinian territories. However, these actions were met with opposition from US air propulsion systems in Jordan and Israel.

Importantly, and for the first time since 2003, these operations mark Iraqi cooperation with the Palestinian resistance against Israel’s occupation. They also serve to demonstrate the significant capabilities developed by the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in recent years, supported discreetly by Iran.

Iraq responds to the US-Israeli war against Gaza 

After their victory over ISIS, Iraq’s resistance factions have operated in a complex political and security environment, which include a direct US military presence inside the state, occasional Iraqi government hostility to the factions (former President Mustafa al-Kadhimi), a sharp internal Iraqi political division, and ongoing external interference, particularly from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Despite these circumstances, the factions have continued to build missile and drone capabilities and further consolidate their alliance with fellow Axis member, Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

But a definitive switch was flipped after the 7 October Palestinian resistance operation and Israel’s merciless attacks on besieged Gaza and its 2.2 million inhabitants. These events prompted the Iraqi resistance factions – for the first time – to enter the conflict in support of their allies in Gaza.

Per their statements, the war on Gaza is perceived as an American-Israeli war and they have issued warnings that they will exert pressure on the US occupation forces, especially if there is any direct US military intervention on behalf of Tel Aviv.

To date, the key achievements of Iraq’s resistance factions include:

First, defining US occupation forces in Iraq and Syria as legitimate targets for the Iraqi resistance. Notably, the US military refrains from responding within Iraqi territory because it cannot currently bear the consequences of an escalation inside Iraq that will push the resistance factions to intensify and expand its targets to new US sites and interests. The American forces instead focus on striking Syria, where it claims to target “Iran-backed” groups.

Second, the Iraqi resistance is publicly demonstrating its military support for its Palestinian counterparts. Despite this being a first, the Iraqi factions have been early, consistent, and reliable actors in providing vocal and active support for the Palestinian resistance within a week of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Third, sending a message to the US-Israeli alliance about Iraq’s future involvement in key regional issues. This is unprecedented in many ways, and signals that these factions intend to play a role in military actions against their Axis, including in Palestine and Lebanon.

Fourth, having legally established the PMU as a formidable political and military force in Iraq, this balance of political power will be hard to overturn, particularly as its operations against US occupation forces – and potentially Israeli ones – enjoy popular support in the wider Arab world.

Waiting for the ‘zero hour’ 

The Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades Spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini affirms that attacks on US bases will continue and escalate in response to Israel’s aggression on Gaza. He emphasizes the capability of the factions to target all US forces in Iraq – even those in the country’s Kurdish-controlled north – saying: “The Americans know well the military and human capabilities of the resistance.”

One faction of the Iraqi Islamic Resistance, the Waad al-Sadiq Corps, has claimed responsibility for drone strikes on the Ain al-Assad base, the largest US base in the country, in response to the ongoing atrocities committed by Zionists in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the group’s Secretary General Muhammad al-Tamimi says, “The resistance fighters are waiting for the zero hour to storm the border with Israel,” and notes that “the resistance is ready to enter the battle of Gaza without any delay.”

A source within one of the armed resistance factions reveals to The Cradle that his faction alone conducted “More than 17 strikes against the Ain al-Assad and Harir bases in Iraq, and the American forces stationed at the Conoco field in the [Syrian] northeastern countryside of Deir Ezzor.”

The source adds: “In just one day, on 7 November, the resistance factions carried out over five attacks against the American occupation bases in Ain al-Assad, Harir, Erbil Airport, and the Al-Tanf base in Syria.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced in a statement that US forces “under the direction of President Joe Biden, launched precise defensive air strikes on the Iraqi-Syrian border, targeting facilities used by armed groups participating in attacks on US facilities in Iraq.”

Despite fervent US diplomatic efforts – via Omani and Qatari mediators – to dissuade the Axis of Resistance countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen) from openly supporting Gaza, attacks against US occupation forces in Syria and Iraq have only escalated.

These US efforts include intimidation tactics such as mobilizing its naval fleet in the Mediterranean Sea bordering Lebanon and Palestine, two major members of the Axis. But these measures failed, leading to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s 5 November Baghdad visit to pressure Iraq’s government and issue threats against its Iranian-backed resistance.

According to a US State Department statement, Blinken reportedly discussed with Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani “the necessity of not expanding the scope of the conflict,” and called on the Iraqi government to “hold accountable those responsible for the attacks against American forces.”

Those calls were met with widespread popular and political rejection. Iraqi political activists demanded severing relations with the United States and removing its military forces from Iraq, while Sadrist movement leader Muqtada al-Sadr called for the closure of the US embassy in Baghdad.

Targeting US bases in Iraq and Syria 

Presently, US forces are stationed in 22 military sites across Iraq, including ten main bases in locations as varied as Sinjar, Mosul, Qayyarah, Al-Tun Kubri, Halabja, Balad, Mansouriya, Al-Taji, and Al-Baghdadi (Ain al-Assad).

US soldiers are also deployed in three camps and other bases in Kirkuk, Victory Base at Baghdad International Airport – which is used for command, control, investigations, and intelligence information – and Habbaniya Base. The occupation forces have established concentration points in Albukamal on the Iraqi-Syrian border in Albukamal, near the strategic Al-Walid crossing, and at Al-Tanf base (with British forces) at the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle.

According to a high-ranking Iraqi intelligence source, there are over 22,000 military personnel and contractors inside US military bases in Iraq, covering various roles such as soldiers, advisors, trainers, monitoring officers, information analysts, technicians, and the Air Force.

In parallel, US forces maintain a presence in 20 bases and military sites inside Syria under the pretext of combating ISIS and training Iraqi forces. The main bases are located at Tabqa Airport, Rmelan, Al-Malikiyah, Tal Tamr, Farzeh, Manbij, and Ain al-Arab.

There are three additional military sites in Al-Hasakah Governorate and two in Manbij. Regional strategic experts argue that this substantial deployment of US forces goes well beyond an advisory role, and aligns with the broader US-Israeli project of balkanizing the region.

Mobilizing at the Jordan border 

Aside from the attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria, sources inform The Cradle that hundreds of Iraqi resistance fighters have already crossed into Syria and Lebanon in anticipation of an escalation in the regional war. On this, a military official from one of the factions says:

“The Iraqi resistance gained invaluable experience in urban warfare and challenging terrains during conflicts against the American occupation and ISIS. The majority of the resistance movements studied the battlefield with the Israeli side in detail, and the crossing points from the countries neighboring the Palestinian borders, and if the zero hour arrives, the Israelis will be surprised by the arrival of the fighters into the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Simultaneously, Iraqi factions have mobilized thousands of men along Iraq’s border with Jordan to pressure Amman to open the passage.

While the nearest Iraqi border point is 550 kilometers away from Gaza City and 373 kilometers from the Jordanian-Palestinian border – making crossing challenging without Jordanian approval – this has not deterred over 4,000 Iraqis from gathering near the Iraqi-Jordanian border. These individuals are not only members of Iraq’s resistance factions but also include Iraqi community and tribal activists from all Iraqi sects.

The Cradle paid a recent visit to the Trebil border crossing (575 kilometers west of Baghdad), where a makeshift camp for thousands supporting the Palestinians has been established. As Abu Jaafar, one of the sit-in’s organizers, reveals:

“This popular movement stems from a sense of responsibility towards the Palestinian issue, and an attempt to convey a voice to the world to show the oppression of the Palestinian people and to show that the Palestinian issue is the issue of all Muslims, not the Palestinians alone.”

Hassan al-Daraji, who is participating in the sit-in, tells The Cradle that “those present here are a small part of those who have the desire to reach the Palestinian border. Thousands of people are waiting for zero hour to cross the border.”

Some pro-west media outlets have attempted to spin what is currently a civilian gathering at the Iraq-Jordan border into something more sinister – a congregation of gunmen attempting to cross the Jordanian border. Abu Jaafar dismisses the claim altogether :

“The goal of the sit-in is peaceful solidarity and providing moral support with Gaza, as the organizing committee for the sit-in worked to collect donations of in-kind food items in the hope of allowing us to deliver them across the Jordanian-Palestinian border, and we are here to try to put pressure on the international community.”

In short, the actions of Iraqi resistance factions in the aftermath of Al-Aqsa Flood and Israel’s aggression in Gaza mark a significant shift in their regional role and expanding capabilities.

By targeting the localized US military presence – Israel’s primary backer and enabler – these factions are not only popularly redefining foreign forces as legitimate targets, but also demonstrating unprecedented direct military support for the Palestinian resistance.

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