‘Iraqi Militias Will Be More Involved in the Regional Conflict in Upcoming Months,’ Experts Tell TML

Iraqi militias have been growing exponentially and currently pose the biggest threat to Iraq’s stability since they call the shots, and the Iraqi prime minister seems to serve at their pleasure

By Giorgia Valente/The Media Line

On June 17, the US State Department declared the Iraq-based militia Harakat Ansar Allah al-Awfiya (HAAA) and its secretary general, Haydar Muzhir Ma’lak al-Sa’idi, as Designated Global Terrorists.

“HAAA is an Iraq-based Iran-backed militia group, which is part of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI)— a front group that includes multiple Iran-aligned terrorist and militia groups, including US-designated terrorist organizations Kata’ib Hizballah, Harakat al-Nujaba, and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. These groups have repeatedly attacked the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria,” stated Matthew Miller, US State Department spokesperson.

The IRI has claimed responsibility for dozens of recent attacks against US military personnel in Iraq and Syria, including the January drone attack that killed three US service members at Tower 22 in Jordan. HAAA was involved in that attack and has publicly threatened to continue targeting US interests in the region,Miller added.

According to Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and co-founder of the Militia Spotlight platform, “This decision of declaring HAAA as a global terrorist organization could be connected to two main options: the first could be that the U.S. is formally putting HAAA in the list to strike them more in the future, by saying that they are targeting a terrorist group.”

“The second option could be that the US has recently learned something else on the group and is taking this step to prevent them from posing a serious threat not only to the US personnel in Iraq and Syria but to the overall region. This statement aims at showing that America is doing something, but sanctions remain ineffective,” he explained to The Media Line.

After the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, which caused a regime change and internal chaos, the country faced another big hit in 2011 when US troops withdrew, and Iran managed to take over amid the political vacuum. “From 2011, Iran gained overall control of the state in every sector through its proxies. It gained the ability of altering the relations between Iraq and international actors; the militias took control of entire areas, especially of the oil sector, and new economic agreements have been ongoing with China as well,” Knights stated.

Iraq has faced the threat of ISIS in the past. However, after the terrorist group’s major defeat against the Global Coalition between 2014-2017, it lost 95% of its territory and has no longer been a huge threat. In fact, Mosul is coming back to life after 10 years of ISIS occupation.

Meanwhile, Iraqi militias have been growing exponentially and currently pose the biggest threat to Iraq’s stability since they call the shots, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani seems to serve at their pleasure.

“These militias dominate the Iraqi government since they are the key elements of the current coalition. The prime minister is playing a dangerous game by trying to be involved with the militias and reaching agreements with both the US and Saudi Arabia,” Meir Litvak, senior research associate at the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line.

Litvak further explained that the US has lost its strategic power in Iraq compared to the past but still maintains a key role in monitoring ISIS. According to Litvak, in the case of US withdrawal, ISIS may gain back its power in the long run since the Iraqi government alone won’t be able to challenge them.

“The American presence is unpopular in Iraqi streets, but many Iraqi politicians know that without an American and international presence within the country, these groups will gain back power and will bring the region into chaos,” asserted Raphael Cohen, director of RAND Project AIR FORCE’s Strategy and Doctrine Program, speaking to The Media Line.

Cohen also mentioned that Iraq doesn’t fully trust the Shia militias such as Iran’s proxies like Hizbullah and the Houthis.

“The Iraqi militias get less media attention, but they pose an equal threat. Iran trusts Hizbullah, which is its most powerful and resilient proxy, and, secondly, the Houthis, which were not that known before October 7 but have gained popularity since then due to their attacks against international ships. These two are a good investment economically speaking for Iran, compared to the various militias in Iraq, which are perceived as too disunited and chaotic,” Cohen said.

Knights explained that the US has been less active in dismantling Iran’s terrorist network because of the geopolitical crisis involving the wars in both Gaza and Ukraine, plus the uncertainty related to the results of the upcoming US presidential election.

“We only act when it gets really bad. We play catch-up, essentially. I think that after the elections, both [Donald] Trump and [Joe] Biden will try to consider more their involvement in the Middle East given Iran’s hegemonic role,” he added.

The past nine months have been challenging for the region amid the ongoing war in Gaza, the Israel-Iran escalation, and the increasingly tense situation between Israel and Hizbullah. Iraqi militias may become more involved in the conflict against Israel as well.

“These militias are trying to destabilize Jordan and plan to launch rockets towards Israel from the Jordanian border. They declared this openly. This is why Jordan helped Israel during the major attack that Iran carried out,” Litzak said.

“They [the Iraqi militias] are going to become more involved in the case of an escalation between Hizbullah and Israel. They will launch rockets coordinated with the Houthis as well, and this will worsen the regional situation even more,” Cohen added.

“[The Islamic Resistance in Iran] IRI declared to have launched joint drone attacks with the Houthis against the Haifa Port on June 6, and the same was declared on June 12, stating that a missile strike was directed towards Ashdod and a drone attack against Haifa. In case of a bigger escalation, we will see more action coming from these militias, and Israel will find itself facing multiple threats,” Knights concluded.

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