By Jennifer Griffin, ,
Published December 12, 2015
An Iranian militia on July 12 attempted to fire 41 Iranian-made rockets at a U.S. military post in eastern Iraq near the border with Iran. Seventeen of the 107 mm rockets were confiscated by U.S. and Iraqi forces before they could be launched, but the rest missed the U.S. base known as COS Garry Owen in Maysan province just north of Basra and instead hit the base for the Iraqi 10th Army division, killing several Iraqi women and children.
U.S. defense officials familiar with the incident tell Fox News that in response an angry Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki issued a communiqué warning his Iranian counterparts that should such destabilizing operations continue he would be forced to ask U.S. forces to remain in Iraq past December 31, the current deadline for all U.S. forces to leave.
Since then, the number of Iranian proxy attacks by Asaib ahl al-Haq (AAH), or the League of the Righteous, against U.S. forces has dropped significantly. The reduced attacks led U.S. intelligence officials to conclude that Iran’s short term strategy may now be to wait for U.S. troops to leave at the end of the year before trying to reassert itself through the militias which have been trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps - Quds Force.
Until the misfire in July the Iranian strategy, according to U.S. military commanders, was to step up the number of attacks on U.S. forces in order to make it look as though U.S. troops were being forced to leave the region. The July incident appears to mark a shift in strategy, according to one senior defense official. The Revolutionary Guard asked the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia to stand down while Maliki completes a difficult round of negotiations with the U.S. ambassador and State Department, determining how many, if any, U.S. troops will stay past December.
The 107 mm rockets fired at the U.S. base had writing on them that linked them to Iran and color bands on the munitions that also link them to Iraq’s next door neighbor, according to classified weapons manuals shared by Iraqi and U.S. forces.
AAH, the group that fired the rockets, is led by the notorious. Shiite cleric Qais Khazali who founded the group in 2006 after splitting from Muqtada al Sadr at the height of the Iraq civil war, according to the Institute for the Study of War. Khazali led a daring raid on U.S. forces in January 2007 in Karbala using American vehicles, uniforms and identification cards that left 5 U.S. soldiers dead. He and his brother and a Lebanese Hezbollah operative were captured by U.S. troops two months later.
AAH then carried out a coordinated attack on Iraq’s Finance ministry, kidnapping a British consultant. Khazali was released by U.S. forces in 2009 as part of a prisoner swap and attempt by the Maliki government to bring the Shiite militia into the political process.
Recently Khazali was photographed at a conference sponsored by the Iranian government in Iran celebrating the “Islamic Awakening,” Iran’s answer to the Arab Spring. He sat 4 rows behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, raising eyebrows among U.S. military officials who have faced dozens of attacks by his Shiite Iraqi militia since his release in 2009.
In June of this year, 9 U.S. soldiers were killed as a result of Iranian rockets. U.S. troops were attacked 6 times this year by militias firing Iranian rockets, twice as many times as the year before. Admiral Mike Mullen before retiring as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs last week warned, “If they [Iran] keep killing our troops that will not be something that we will sit idly by and watch.” Now it seems that Iran’s leadership has made a new calculation that it may be more beneficial to slow the attacks until the government of Iraq finalizes its request for how many U.S. troops it will ask to remain.