Situation Report: US targets Iranian assets on Syria-Iraq border

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On June 27, the U.S. State Department said it carried out defensive precision airstrikes against assets used by Iran-backed militias along the Iraq-Syria border. According to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 5 militants were killed in this attack. The State Department named Kataib-Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shushada as two of the groups targeted in the airstrike.

Kataib-Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shushada are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq. PMF groups initially materialized in Iraq in 2014 to counter the rising threat of ISIS, but some factions have splintered off and now function as Iranian proxies. Although these militias prioritize the interests of Tehran, they are legally integrated into Iraq’s Security Forces.

In response to the airstrikes, the Iraqi government condemned the mission as a “blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” noting that Iraq wanted to avoid becoming an “arena for settling accounts” between the U.S. and Iran. Iran-backed militias began carrying out consistent rocket and drone attacks targeting U.S. military and diplomatic sites in Iraq following the 2020 killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Since the onset of this year, Iranian militants have been behind dozens of attacks targeting U.S. service members throughout Iraq. In a statement, the State Department pointed to the recent uptick in attacks by Iran militias as the impetus driving the airstrikes.

U.S. personnel have grown more concerned in recent months as Iran-backed militias have begun to use increasingly sophisticated and lethal weaponry in its attacks. In early June, Iran militants used explosive-laden drones in attacks that targeted an Iraqi airbase hosting U.S. troops. The Commander of U.S. Central Command expressed his concern for the militants’ use of unmanned aerial systems in its attacks.

The Biden administration has focused its Iran policy on restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement, which the former Trump administration withdrew from in 2018. The decision to launch airstrikes targeting Iran militias along the Iraqi-Syria border may influence ongoing discussions in Vienna.

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