Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored Iraqi militia group, said today that the United States and its regional allies created the Islamic State three years ago to destabilize Iraq and Syria. A statement released by the group claimed that “heroes of the Hezbollah Brigades had the privilege of firing the first shots at the U.S. occupying soldiers after the April, 2003 invasion of Iraq and the honor of forcing them out of the country.” It also revealed that the group’s militiamen are taking part in the latest offensive to liberate strategic areas in western Anbar Province from the Islamic State. It also stressed that the “Islamic resistance” – a term often used to describe Iranian-led Shiite militant network in the Middle East – will continue its “jihad” until all of Iraqi territory is liberated.
Comment: With the Islamic State on the verge of defeat and tension between Tehran and Washington on the rise, Iranian-supported Iraqi militia groups have dialed up anti-American propaganda and are threatening to attack U.S. troops if they do not leave post-Islamic State Iraq. As the official statement by Kata’ib Hezbollah indicates, Iranian-backed groups waged a deadly campaign in the wake of the 2003 invasion and are responsible for the death of hundreds of American and coalition soldiers and civilians. Ironically, the U.S. military has been supporting these groups– mostly through air support – in the anti-Islamic State military operations in Iraq.
Last month, the Iraqi Hezbollah made a similar threat, stressing that its forces are ready to “fight American occupiers” and accusing U.S. soldiers of aiding the Islamic State. “We are not students of war. We are ready to fight more than ever before. Our military capabilities are ten times what they were in the past,” boasted Jafar al-Husseini, the group’s spokesman. “The Iraqi people reject American presence on the Iraqi soil and the major violations committed during their occupation. Iraqis stand behind the Islamic resistance factions in the face of America’s presence,” he continued.
Iranian leaders are not shy about admitting harming American interests in Iraq either. In July, Brigadier General Ismail Ghaani, the deputy commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, said: “America has suffered more losses from us than we have suffered losses from them.” Iranian outlets close to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) also argue that the defeat of the Islamic State has paved the way for the expulsion of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Tehran has also stepped up diplomatic pressure on Baghdad. During both Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s visits to Tehran last May and this week, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei urged the Iraqi leader not to rely on the United States.
Kata'ib Hezbollah operates both in Iraq and Syria. The group is a unit within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.), but it receives its instructions more from Tehran than Baghdad.
The group has a long history of committing acts of terrorism against U.S. forces in Iraq. In 2009, the U.S. Departments of Treasury and State designated Kata'ib Hezbollah as a terrorist entity for having “committed, directed, supported, or posed a significant risk of commit acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.” In the wake of the 2003 Iraqi invasion, the group’s cell members carried out numerous attacks against U.S. forces. According to U.S. officials, Iran’s elite Quds Force funded and trained members of the group jointly with the Lebanese Hezbollah.