US intel details Iranian aggression in the Middle East

“Iran and Iran-aligned militias continued to pose a threat to Coalition forces,” recent report stated.
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers march during a military parade. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP)
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers march during a military parade. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – Last week, the US released a devastating report on Iran’s aggressive actions in the region. On Tuesday, the Lead Inspector General (LIG) for US counter-terrorism operations in Iraq and Syria issued an important report covering developments in the Jan. 1 – Mar. 31 quarter.

Observations about Iran figured prominently in the report of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the formal name for the US operation against ISIS. The quarterly reports were mandated by the US Congress after US forces returned to Iraq in 2014 to fight the newly emergent terrorist group.

The LIG reports cover the activities of the Defense and State Departments, as well as USAID. Formally, they are reports to the US Congress. Because of this, they are unusually candid, since they are further removed from political considerations than many statements and reports produced by the US government. 

Among the issues that stand out in the latest report is Iran and the threat it poses in Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region, Syria, and the Middle East more broadly. 

The LIG report is at odds with the Biden administration’s discourse, which tends to say little about these matters, subordinating them to hopes for a return to the 2015 nuclear accord.

LIG Report: Attacks from Iran and Iran-backed Militias: Attack on Erbil 

“On March 13, Iran launched at least 12 ballistic missiles from Iranian territory, that hit the outskirts of Erbil, near the new US consulate compound that is under construction” the report stated.

“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] claimed responsibility for the attack against what it described as an Israeli intelligence outpost in Erbil,” it continued, even as it explained “the building struck “was the residence of a prominent businessman well known to US officials.” 

That businessman is Baz Karim Barzinji. Barzinji heads the KAR Group, the most important energy firm in the Kurdistan Region.

The report also noted the damage the Iranian missile attack did to Kurdistan 24. “The headquarters of Kurdistan 24 News, which is affiliated with Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] Prime Minister Masrour Barzani was also damaged,” it said.

Was the strike an attempt to intimidate the KRG? Perhaps due to its energy production — since it came at a time when the Ukraine crisis has made that a particularly sensitive issue?

Some two weeks later, the Kurdish Prime Minister attended a conference in Dubai. At the World Government Summit 2022, Barzani said, "As we are discovering more oil and gas fields, we are trying to develop those areas, this is something that may not be in the interest of the Iranians,” adding that such attacks were also a "warning" and "political pressure" on the factions trying to form a new Iraqi government.

Read More: Rockets and institutions aim to stop Kurdistan Region from becoming main energy supplier: PM Barzani

The LIG report also noted that “as many as nine of the ballistic missiles struck in the vicinity of the new US consulate compound,” but caused no injuries to Americans or damage to US facilities.

Iran’s Use of Iraqi Territory to Attack Neighboring States

“The DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] reported that militias in Iraq demonstrated the capability and willingness to target Gulf states with long-range weapons in support of Iran and other Iranian allies in the region,” the LIG report stated.

“In February, an Iraq-based group claimed responsibility for launching three UAVs in an attack, targeting Abu Dhabi.” The United Arab Emirates, however, was able to intercept the drones, which “likely originated from Iraq,” it said. 

The attempted attack on Abu Dhabi was “probably a show of solidarity with the Iran-backed Houthis, which are fighting the United Arab Emirates in Yemen,” the LIG report continued. 

It also noted that “Iran-aligned militias increased attacks against Turkish forces in Iraq and Syria,” adding, “The militias probably will continue to coordinate with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a US-designated foreign terrorist organization in response to Turkish air and UAV strikes on PKK positions.”

Iranian-Backed Attacks Against US and Coalition Forces

The report also described Iranian-backed militias as a significant threat to US and other Coalition forces in both Iraq and Syria, although the danger in Iraq was mitigated somewhat by the fact that Iraq is still attempting to form a new government. In the view of the DIA, the militias seek to “avoid actions that would weaken their domestic political position,” particularly after “their poor performance in the October 2021 election.”

Nonetheless, “IED attacks against Iraqi-driven Coalition logistics convoys have been evolving in lethality, complexity, and consistency with a total of 39 IED attacks during the quarter,” the LIG report stated.

“More sophisticated IEDs, such as explosively formed penetrators and multi-arrayed IEDs, were used with the intent to disable the convoys and damage cargo,” it continued, noting that the convoys were targeted “at the beginning and end of their route along a highway connecting Baghdad to Kuwait.”

In Syria, “Iran and Iran-aligned militias continued to pose a threat to Coalition forces,” the LIG report stated. “On January 5, Iran-aligned militias launched eight rounds of direct fire” against Coalition forces at Green Village, a base of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Deir ez-Zor province. 

The attack, which the Coalition limited by conducting preemptive strikes, caused only minor damage to the base and no casualties. The point of origin for the assault was in territory controlled by the Syrian regime, the LIG report said.

The report’s description of Iranian belligerence in Iraq and Syria is entirely consistent with what outgoing CENTCOM Commander, Gen. Frank McKenzie (US Marine Corps), told reporters in March in his last press briefing in that capacity: "I continue to see Iran as the greatest threat to regional security and stability.”

Read More: CENTCOM Commander: Iran is the biggest threat in the region

The State Department, however, tends to be more soft-spoken on the Iranian threat. It regularly fails to see Tehran’s involvement in the kind of attacks the LIG attributes to Iran and the militias it backs. The most evident reason for that is its hope for a return to the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, which former President Donald Trump abrogated in 2018. 

The on-again, off-again negotiations for a renewal of the nuclear accord began last April—over a year ago. Although Iran refused to speak directly to the US negotiators, the Biden administration accepted a clumsy, indirect format that has European diplomats shuttling between the two parties.

It had seemed, not so long ago, that the talks would simply lapse, because of a last-minute Iranian demand that the US remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs.)

The Saudi-based “Arab News” even reported on May 3 that the West had “given up hope” of reviving the accord. But hope springs eternal, and the European Union envoy, Enrique Mora, traveled to Iran on Tuesday in yet another attempt to revive the deal.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, focusing on Iran, warned of accommodating Tehran to such an extent.

“It’s clear that the Biden administration has had a one-track mind on Iran from the get-go,” Ben Taleblu told Kurdistan 24. “This has led to more than a year of unenforced sanctions,” while it has “facilitated significant Iranian nuclear expansion.”

Moreover, it has had a very negative impact on Saudi Arabia and the other Arab oil-producing countries of the Gulf. With the Ukraine crisis, the US and Europe are keen to find alternatives to Europe’s reliance on the import of Russian energy supplies.

Both the US and Europe have asked Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries to increase their oil production to address this problem. But they have been refused!

“Washington’s pulled punches have been read in the region as a lack of US resolve,” Ben Taleblu concluded.