Iraqi PM warns of persistent challenges amid rise in Iran-backed militia attacks

An escalation between Shiite militias and US forces began following Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip

Iraq's Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al Sudani at a joint press conference with the Iranian president after their meeting in Tehran in November.  Photo: Iranian Presidency
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Iraq is going through a dangerous period with several concurrent challenges, including the presence of rogue Shiite militant groups, the country’s Prime Minister has warned.

His latest speech was a rare condemnation of the groups, some of which are linked to his political allies.

It marks the first time that Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani has departed from the optimistic tone he has struck in public speeches since taking office in October last year.

“Honestly speaking, we are at a crucial juncture in Iraq’s history,” Mr Al Sudani told the Interior Ministry’s Federal Police on Sunday in a meeting to mark the sixth anniversary of ISIS' defeat.

“The juncture is not devoid of danger as challenges persist and that it necessitates our proactive approach to face these challenges,” Mr Al Sudani said.

The escalation between Iran-backed Shiite militants and US forces is due to Washington's support of Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip, the militias say and has put the government in a difficult position.

After a year where there was little violence in Iraq, the Shiite militias resumed their rocket and drone attacks against US troops, although attacks by the groups in Syria had been more frequent, including an attack in March that killed one.

The US has 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in neighbouring Syria to advise and assist local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of ISIS, which in 2014 seized vast areas of both countries but was later defeated.

They have said the attacks are aimed at expelling US forces from Iraq and to pressure Israel to stop operations in Gaza after an attack from Hamas militants on October 7 killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

Since then, US forces in Iraq and Syria as part of the global anti-ISIS coalition, have been attacked about 84 times, according to the Pentagon. The US has responded with several strikes that have killed at least 15 militants in Iraq and about seven in Syria.

On Friday, several rockets were fired at dawn towards the Green Zone in Baghdad where the US embassy is located. Some rockets landed in the embassy compound while several others hit the headquarters of the Iraqi National Security Service, according to Iraqi security officials. The attacks caused no casualties.

Unlike other attacks, no group immediately claimed responsibility.

Mr Al Sudani denounced the attacks as “acts of terrorism” and vowed to apprehend those responsible and called for an urgent meeting for his backers the Co-ordination Framework, an umbrella group of Iran-backed political parties, many of which are linked to the militias.

“While this government, formed a year ago, is exerting exceptional efforts across all ministries – be it in services, the economy or security – it faces individuals, groups and entities attempting to position themselves as guardians over Iraq,” the Prime Minister said on Sunday.

He warned that they are trying to “seize control over the decisions of the constitutional and legal state institutions and to give itself the authority to announce war and peace”.

“We will confront this challenge,” he added.

On the weekend, the Tehran-allied Kataib Hezbollah militia rejected attempts to stop the attacks and vowed to continue them.

Updated: December 11, 2023, 8:53 AM