Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed terrorist organization that forms part of the Iraqi armed forces, issued a bizarre statement on Tuesday promising it would stop attacking American troops to prevent “embarrassment” for Baghdad.
Kata’ib Hezbollah, or the Hezbollah Brigades, are one of Iraq’s most powerful Iran-backed militias and form part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a coalition of mostly Shiite militias that initially operated against the Sunni Islamic State “caliphate” but have since repurposed to attack American forces and their Kurdish allies. Kata’ib Hezbollah is also believed to be part of the most powerful member of the “Islamic Resistance of Iraq,” a catch-all name that various jihadist groups debuted to support the terrorist organization Hamas in the aftermath of its heinous mass murder in Israel on October 7.
The group became a significantly reduced threat to America in 2020 following the execution of its founder and leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Muhandis died in an airstrike ordered by former President Donald Trump to eliminate Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, in Baghdad on January 3 of that year. The IRGC is a formal wing of the Iranian government that funds and supports PMF groups; Soleimani was widely considered the IRGC’s most influential and effective foreign operator.
Under Biden, Kata’ib Hezbollah has largely regrouped and once again poses a threat to American forces.
Kata’ib Hezbollah is a separate entity from, though allied with, the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah.
Most recently, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” took credit for the killing of three Americans and wounding of dozens of others in a drone strike on an outpost on the Jordan-Syria border on January 28.
“As we announce the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces – in order to prevent embarrassment of the Iraqi government – we will continue to defend our people in Gaza in other ways” Kata’ib Hezbollah declared in a statement posted on the encrypted messaging application Telegram. The message added that the group’s terrorists could continue to engage in “self-defense.”
The statement did not elaborate on what “embarrassment” it had caused for Baghdad or how it would “continue to defend our people in Gaza.” The Qatari outlet Al Jazeera quoted a senior leader of the terrorist group, Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi, stating that its allied states “often object to the pressure and escalation against the American occupation forces in Iraq and Syria,” apparently including Iran, the world’s premier state sponsor of terrorism and a prominent backer of the group.
The Pentagon reportedly responded to the statement on Tuesday with a short message: “actions speak louder than words.”
The statement represents a dramatic shift from the group’s promise to execute “painful” terrorist attacks against Americans a mere week ago.
“Iraq’s resistance will keep supporting Gaza and the Israeli-occupied Palestine while conducting painful attacks on US occupation forces until they are driven out of Iraq and the region,” Kata’ib Hezbollah said in a statement published less than a week before its abrupt promise to no longer attack Americans, according to the Iranian state propaganda outlet PressTV. The group said that both it and other PMF entities would “expand the scope of their retaliatory strikes from the military bases used by the US occupation forces to their interests in Iraq and the entire region.”
That statement was a response to leftist American President Joe Biden ordering airstrikes against Kata’ib Hezbollah’s “headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities.”
“We do not seek to escalate conflict in the region. We are fully prepared to take further measures to protect our people and our facilities. We call on these groups and their Iranian sponsors to immediately cease these attacks,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said of the attacks.
The government of Iraq defended Kata’ib Hezbollah against the strikes, complaining they were an “unacceptable” violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani has repeatedly refused to support American troops and their Kurdish allies, instead demanding an end to America’s presence in the country and calling anti-terrorist operations a violation of sovereignty.
“We are in the process of reorganizing this relationship. With the presence of capable Iraqi forces, the Iraqi government is heading towards ending the presence of the international coalition forces,” Sudani said of his country’s relationship with the United States in December, apparently promising to work towards the elimination of American troops there.
The Pentagon has documented at least 165 attacks on Americans in Iraq and Syria in the aftermath of the October 7 atrocities, most of them claimed by the debuting “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” coalition. In addition to the attacks, Shiite Iran-backed terrorists in Yemen have launched a campaign against commercial shipping in the Red Sea which has led to a dramatic decline in ship traffic, soaring shipping costs, and major disruptions to global commerce.
An estimated 2,500 American troops remain in Iraq and 900 in Syria as a result of the counter-terrorism operations that began in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, according to Rudaw. Most are currently engaged in aiding operations against what is left of the Islamic State in both countries.