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A dangerous escalation in Iraq, a direct Israeli concern

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The ongoing, steady tempo of rocket attacks against US and official targets in Iraq continued this week. On Monday, two Katyusha rockets fell on the Jadriya neighborhood of Baghdad, close to the fortified Green Zone. There were no casualties, Jerusalem Post reported.

Earlier, on September 27, five civilians (two women and three children) were killed when a Katyusha aimed at Baghdad airport fell short and fell on a private house. The five were members of the same family. On September 30, in an additional escalation, four rockets were launched at the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil, and landed close to Erbil International Airport.

In all, around 80 rocket attacks have taken place against US targets in Iraq in the course of the last year. An organized campaign of violence and harassment against US targets in Iraq is under way.
So who is responsible for the current surge of attacks, and what is their purpose?

The areas from which the rockets have been launched appear almost exclusively to be neighborhoods and regions controlled by the pro-Iran Shia militias.

A previously unknown organization, Usbat al-Thaireen, has taken responsibility for a large proportion of the attacks. The organization was formally launched on March 14, 2020, on the same day as an attack on the Taji military base, where US forces were present.

“Usbat al-Thaireen” is almost certainly a convenient label for the insurgent activities of established Shia militias. Specifically the 10,000-strong Kataib Hezbollah movement, with its extensive networks across the country, appears to be the central player in this emergent insurgency. The smaller Asaib Ahl al-Haq group also plays a role. But it is Kataib Hezbollah which is emerging as the key antagonist of the US in Iraq.

Kataib Hezbollah, founded by the late Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in 2003, perceives itself as a kind of elite force among the plethora of IRGC-linked, pro-Iran armed groups in Iraq. It lacks the establishment image and the bureaucracy of the larger Badr Organization, which plays a formal political role alongside its paramilitary capacity (and which retains a formal presence in the current Iraqi government). KH also appears to constitute a favored organization in the eyes of the IRGC, benefiting from extensive direct contacts with, and training by, IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah personnel.
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