An Iran-backed militia in Iraq — believed responsible for a series of rocket attacks against coalition troops that nearly started a war between Iran and the U.S. — is calling for lone wolf attacks against U.S. forces, according to a message posted by the group.
The message said the “door of jihad” against American troops in Iraq was open and called for “all jihadists” in or outside of Iraq to carry out attacks against U.S. forces, according to Site Intelligence Group.
Rita Katz, the director of SITE Intelligence Group, tweeted that the statement from Kata-ib Hezbollah, or the Hezbollah Brigades, echoed ISIS calls for lone wolf attacks.
There are concerns that lone wolf attacks and continued rocket strikes could push the U.S. and Iran into a broader conflict.
U.S. officials have claimed that Iran-backed and Quds Force supported Kata-ib Hezbollah is responsible for a number of rocket attacks in Iraq against coalition forces, including the Dec. 27 rocket barrage on Kirkuk that killed an American contractor and wounded four U.S. troops.
American F-15 Strike Eagles struck five Kata-ib Hezbollah positions across Iraq and Syria on Dec. 29 killing a number of militants. The U.S. strikes led to demonstrators nearly storming the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, a U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, and a retaliatory Iranian ballistic missile strike against U.S. troops in Iraq.
No U.S. troops were wounded or killed in Iran’s ballistic missile attack, which slammed two Iraqi air bases at al-Asad and Irbil.
But the rocket attacks by Iran-backed groups have analysts and national security experts worried that rag-tag militias could push Washington and Tehran to war.
The degree of control Tehran holds over these organizations is unknown, but likely reduced after the killing of Soleimani, who had tremendous influence.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman says the Iran-backed groups are directly financed and trained by the Quds Force — an Iranian paramilitary group that has sown instability across the Middle East by propping up Shia proxies aligned to Tehran.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday that the Iraqi militias will “remain a challenge,” and that he expects the Iran-backed groups to continue attacks against coalition forces in the country.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.