Middle EastAnalysis

US to strike pro-Iranian militia targets in Syria and Iraq

US responds to Sunday’s drone attack at a remote US base in Jordan that killed three American soldiers

The US has announced its intention to strike pro-Iranian militia targets in Syria and Iraq in response to Sunday’s drone attack that killed three US soldiers at a remote US base in Jordan.

Before the strike, Iran-backed Iraqi militias carried out more than 160 non-fatal attacks in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for US support for Israel’s war on Gaza.

Without revealing details, president Joe Biden has said his response would not trigger regional war. There could, however, be escalation in an already widening regional conflict. National security council spokesman John Kirby has suggested the US could adopt a “tiered approach” by mounting sequential operations which could involve multiple actions.

The US blamed Iran for the attack in Jordan, but it has denied involvement. While the US is not expected to strike Islamic Revolutionary Guards facilities in Iran itself, appropriate targets outside Iran are limited. After recent Israeli strikes killed half a dozen senior officers serving in Syria with pro-government militia forces, Tehran withdrew survivors.


Nevertheless, US strikes on Iranian militia forces in Syria could destabilise the country. The militias have supported Syria’s government during civil, proxy and Islamic State wars. This could weaken the government’s efforts to eliminate fugitive fighters from Islamic State (also known as Isis), who continue to attack the Syrian army.

Network of Iranian-backed militants in the Middle East

The Jordan attack has created a dilemma for Iraqi prime minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who was appointed by Iran-allied militia factions but has attempted to retain ties with the US. Under popular pressure, Baghdad had begun negotiations with Washington for the withdrawal of 2,500 US troops from Iraq. Fresh US strikes could increase domestic pressure for a US evacuation.

In a bid to avert US retaliation against Iraq, the pro-Iranian militia Kataib Hizbullah – regarded by the US as a leading suspect in the Jordan attack – has cancelled anti-US operations to “prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government”. Because Kataib Hizbullah and other militias have merged with the Iraqi army, US strikes would target the army.

Lebanon has feared the US might strike Hizbullah, weakening the movement during escalating exchanges of cross-border fire with Israel. Hizbullah has primarily targeted Israeli military posts and troops. Israeli townspeople have fled the north, but Israel has hit Lebanese villages, depopulating the southern border area, and has threatened to attack Beirut.

A US ally and recipient of US aid, Jordan did not expect to be targeted, but it has come under popular pressure to expel 3,000 US troops deployed in a kingdom where half the population is of Palestinian origin. Having initially claimed the targeted US base, Tower 22, is in Syria, a jittery Amman had to admit it was in Jordan. The US has a well-established base nearby at Tanf, in Syria on the borders of Jordan and Iraq.

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