'Unannounced truce' halts Iraq militia attacks against US forces

The pause agreement involves Baghdad and Tehran and was reached after the last strike on February 4

The flag of the Kataib Hezbollah militia group is raised during a protest outside the US Embassy in Baghdad in December 2019. Reuters
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Iraqi militias backed by Iran have halted their attacks against US forces in the region in the context of an “unannounced truce” that involves Tehran and the Iraqi government, sources in Lebanon and Iraq told The National.

Militant groups in Iraq and Syria have been attacking US troops as part of a co-ordinated front since the outbreak of Israel’s war in Gaza in October, demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Palestinian territory run by their ally Hamas.

But the last strike by those militias was on February 4, according to Pentagon officials. Instead, the armed groups that have previously vowed to continue attacking the US forces until the war in Gaza stops, announced attacks against Israeli targets that weren’t confirmed by other sources.

“There is an ongoing unannounced truce,” a source in Beirut close to the Iranian-backed anti-Israel front said.

“It’s an arrangement between the armed groups, the Iraqi government and the Iranians. It’s also hard not to imagine the Americans [being] part of it,” added the source.

Iraqi sources, the spokesperson of an armed group and a lawmaker confirmed to The National that there is a truce in place and that it was reached around a month ago. However, they provided varying explanations for the factors that led to it.

US withdrawal

The shift happened after the attack that killed three US soldiers at the Jordanian-Syrian border at the end of January and was attributed by Washington to the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an Iran-backed group of militias that includes Kataib Hezbollah.

A senior Iranian commander then travelled to Baghdad and met militants to urge de-escalation immediately, before Kataib Hezbollah announced that it was suspending military operations against US forces in Syria and Iraq to prevent “any embarrassment” to the Iraqi government.

Other groups vowed to continue their attacks, until the US forces hit Iran-backed targets in Iraq and Syria February 2 in retaliation for the death of the American troops and then killed two Kataib Hezbollah leaders in a missile strike in Baghdad.

“The last attack against US forces was on February 4, and then all the armed groups became part of the unannounced truce after discussions with the Iraqi government and the Iranians,” said the source in Beirut.

Harakat Al Nujaba, an Iran-backed militia allied with Kataib Hezbollah, confirmed that it was part of the arrangement, despite vowing to retaliate against the US after the strikes on Iraq and Syria.

“This truce falls within the resistance strategies in managing the conflict in Iraq and the region and it intends to give an opportunity and open the way for the Iraqi government to take over the management of the national dialogue to remove the American forces,” the spokesman for the group, Hussein Al Musawi, said.

“It was reached through many mediations by political groups, religious authorities and community figures,” he told The National.

The US strikes against the militia targets on Iraqi territory have pushed the Iraqi government to respond to longstanding calls for US forces to leave the country. About 2,500 US troops are stationed in Iraq as part of the international coalition against ISIS.

On January 27, Iraq and the US held the first round of talks to end the international coalition's mission, with Baghdad expecting discussions to lead to a timetable for reducing the coalition's presence and reaching bilateral security agreements with state members.

Fear of strikes

A lawmaker in Baghdad close to the militias said the armed groups “don’t want to embarrass the government amid the negotiations” and halting attacks was part of that strategy.

“After the attack in Jordan, the Americans paused the talks. To avoid any disruptions, the government reached a deal with the resistance factions to stop their attacks against the US troops,” he told The National.

That agreement was reached “in co-operation with Iran and Iran-allied political factions”, he added.

The Iraqi government did not respond to requests for comment.

Other Iraqi sources confirmed that an agreement has been reached between the Iraqi factions and the government “to cease all hostilities” against US targets in the country, yielding to pressure from Tehran.

However, the sources explained that the “real reason” behind the cessation of attacks is “fear” of further US attacks against militia leaders.

In recent weeks, US drones have been seen hovering over Baghdad, indicating that American troops are tracking down and monitoring the movements of militia operatives.

US officials credit the retaliatory American strikes with disrupting the militias’ ability to co-ordinate and execute attacks.

While the Pentagon has cautiously welcomed the drop-off in attacks, the US military has stressed it is ready to conduct new strikes against Iran-backed militias if they resume hostilities against its forces.

Updated: March 07, 2024, 4:55 PM