Iran and its proxies may target US forces in Syria in retaliation for multiple Israeli airstrikes on Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in Syria on March 30. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted two airstrikes targeting a likely Iranian or proxy officer and an Iranian-backed militant facility near Damascus on March 30. Syrian media reported that the first airstrike targeted a “pro-Iranian” foreigner traveling in the vicinity of a possible Iranian air defense site, suggesting that the target was an individual of some significance to the Iranian project in Syria. CTP previously reported that the IDF likely targeted an IRGC Quds Force facility and headquarters in the same general area on February 18, indicating that senior Iranian and proxy officers are present there. Iranian leadership has previously warned that it holds the US accountable for Israeli airstrikes in Syria, and Iranian proxies have attacked US positions on several occasions in retaliation for such airstrikes, including the March 23 drone attack that killed an American contractor in northeastern Syria.
Iranian security leaders have announced in recent days that they will resume enforcing the mandatory hijab law with a confrontational approach. The social deputy of the IRGC Qom Provincial Unit—Major Ali Mehdi Babaei—announced on March 18 the implementation of a new initiative—the “Let’s Enjoin Good in Our Neighborhood” plan—to enforce the hijab requirement and other regime behavioral expectations in public in Qom Province. Babaei described the plan as “neighborhood-centric” and mosque-based, suggesting that the IRGC will use the Basij Organization to implement the initiative. IRGC Operations Deputy Brigadier General Abbas Nilforoushan previously announced plans to establish “patrols for enjoining good and forbidding evil” in Qom between March 16 and Ramadan, as CTP reported. It is noteworthy that the IRGC and Basij—rather than the Law Enforcement Command (LEC)—appear to be trying to take lead on hijab enforcement. Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan stated on March 19 that the LEC will increase neighborhood patrols during Nowrouz and confront women not properly adhering to the hijab law. Radan specified that “travelers in Mazandaran Province must observe the hijab law much more than before,” indicating that his target audience was tourists—many of whom are likely from Tehran—traveling to the Caspian Sea for the Nowrouz holiday.
Key Takeaway: Iraq’s popular protest movement, set to recommence on October 1, may incite intra-Iraqi violence and could present a risk to US personnel and facilities in Iraq. Iraq’s popular protest movement is planning to resume mass memorial protests on the one-year anniversary of the “October Revolution” protests; these demonstrations will continue to condemn government corruption, Iranian influence, poor government services, mass unemployment, and the failure of the Iraqi government to hold security forces accountable for the mass killing of protesters in 2019. Iranian proxy militias and followers of nationalist Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are likely planning to infiltrate the anniversary protests and use them to achieve their own objectives. This co-optation of the otherwise largely peaceful protest movement may spark clashes between Sadrists, Iranian proxy militants, and Iraqi protesters. In an unlikely but most dangerous scenario, Iran’s proxies could use the chaos of mass protests as a cover for attacks on the US Embassy, on Kadhimi’s government, or on any individual or organization affiliated with the United States or the US-led Coalition.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi led an Iraqi delegation to Washington, DC, for a productive second stage of the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue. Delegates representing Iraq and the United States agreed to a number of economic and energy deals and to the continued drawdown of US forces. They did not set a concrete timeline for the complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, a key demand of the Iranian regime and its Iraqi proxies. Iran’s proxy militia network in Iraq accelerated its campaigns of targeted assassinations of activists and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on US-affiliated Iraqi contractors during Kadhimi’s Washington visit. Iran’s proxies likely intend to demonstrate Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s domestic weakness and inability to control Iraqi security or protect Iraq’s allies, undermining his domestic authority and global credibility.
Iran and its proxy network in Iraq escalated a kinetic campaign to build political pressure and attempt to force Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to limit his support for the US force presence ahead of the next stage of the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue. Likely Iranian proxy militants conducted five rocket attacks and five confirmed IED attacks on US facilities and supporting personnel in Iraq between August 12 and August 18. This pressure campaign culminated in an August 16 meeting in Baghdad between Kadhimi and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force Commander Esmail Ghaani to discuss the Strategic Dialogue. Ghaani likely met with Kadhimi to punctuate attacks by Iran’s proxies and reiterate Iran’s demands for the expulsion of US troops. Kadhimi is unlikely to encourage the rapid withdrawal of US training and support; Iran’s proxies will likely retaliate for Kadhimi’s failure to quickly comply with the regime’s demands by applying continued political pressure from Iran-aligned Iraqi political factions.
New Iraqi Prime Minister Pushes Ambitious Agenda amid Grave Threats and Possibility of US Troop WithdrawalAugust 21, 2020 - ISW Press
Iraq’s new prime minister is taking assertive but risky actions against corrupt political and militia interests in the Iraqi state. His bold policies create new opportunities for the United States to help Iraq make essential reforms amidst increasingly dire political and economic conditions. However, the United States must accept the limitations that the Iraqi system will impose upon Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s freedom of action. Kadhimi’s early efforts to reform Iraq’s security, economy, and government have achieved mixed but worthwhile results. Without improved security and stalwart international support, Kadhimi’s government is likely to be whittled away by harassment and targeted violence. With US and international support, Kadhimi may be able to generate enough momentum to stabilize Iraq and improve the US-Iraqi relationship beyond his time in office.
Iran-aligned actors continue to resist Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s campaign to steadily implement his core promises to the Iraqi people. Kadhimi demonstrated tangible success in holding security forces accountable for unlawful violence against protesters by arresting members of the Iran-aligned Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) and removing the group’s commander. Kadhimi fulfilled another central promise by setting a date for early elections in June 2021, drawing backlash from entrenched political elites who fear losing their power base through free and fair elections. Kadhimi still faces an uphill battle to hold these elections; Iraq’s parliament must pass a new elections law, draw electoral districts, and approve new rules for the Supreme Federal Court before the elections can be held.
Iran’s Iraqi proxy militias are accelerating their campaign to constrain Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s attempts to reign in militias and reclaim Iraqi sovereignty.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s efforts to preserve Iraqi sovereignty by shifting its regional relationships away from Iranian domination have been met with a mix of successes and setbacks. The hospitalization of the King of Saudi Arabia forced Kadhimi to cancel his symbolically important first planned foreign visit to Saudi Arabia on July 20. Iran capitalized on the cancellation, dispatching its foreign minister in a pre-planned visit to Baghdad and then hosting Kadhimi in Tehran for meetings with Iran’s Supreme Leader as Kadhimi’s de facto first foreign trip. The United States continued to pressure Gulf countries to increase their energy cooperation with Iraq even as Prime Minister Kadhimi faced domestic and foreign resistance from neighboring Iran. Demonstrators are holding Kadhimi responsible for Iraq’s insufficient electricity supply, diluting his popular support. Continued criminal activity by Iran-backed groups, including the kidnapping of a German activist in Baghdad and repeated threats toward Iraqi allies, will also damage Kadhimi’s ability to secure buy-in from regional and global partners.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s political maneuverability is increasingly constrained by resistance from Iran’s militia proxies and from protesters demanding better government services. Kadhimi directed elite forces to retake border crossings, advancing his campaign to reclaim Iraq’s border crossings from Iranian-backed militias with limited success. These security operations have not resulted in arrests or the permanent ousting of any militia groups to date but do signal to the United States that Kadhimi is taking the most aggressive actions he can without triggering violent retaliation from Iran’s proxy militias. Meanwhile, mass demonstrations broke out across the Shi’a-majority south to protest a lack of electricity service provisions after a months-long, COVID-19-induced downturn. Kadhimi continues to pursue new energy partnerships with Iraq’s neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, but will be unable to provide the immediate jump in electricity supplies needed to quell the protests.