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Iraq's Kataib Hezbollah denies resuming attacks on US bases

Iran-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah denied on Monday it had resumed attacks on US bases after two apparent barrages threatened to break a fragile detente that had held since February.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images

Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah on Monday denied reports that it had resumed its armed attacks against US forces in the region following a social media post late on Sunday that such operations would resume after a nearly three-month pause. 

A Telegram post circulated on channels affiliated with the Iran-backed militia announcing the attacks would resume some three months after they were suspended.

The post read that the group has decided to resume its attacks against US interests after talks on the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq during Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s visit to Washington last week failed to produce a set timeline for withdrawal. Talks on a potential withdrawal are set to resume in July, yet Sudani’s trip was primarily focused on economic development and obtaining air defenses for Iraq.

On Saturday, at least five rockets were launched from the town of Zummar, in Iraq’s northern province of Nineveh, toward the military base housing US troops at Rumalyn, in neighboring northeastern Syria.

“What happened a short while ago is the beginning,” read the statement attributed to Kataib Hezbollah in an apparent reference to Sunday’s rocket attack.

Kataib Hezbollah later described the posts as "fabricated news."

The group’s official media outlets, including KAF and the pro-Iran militia affiliated Sabereen News, reported that no statement about resuming operations had been issued by the group in the past 48 hours.

Pentagon officials on Monday likewise downplayed reports of the rocket barrage near the Rumalyn base, describing it as a "failed attack."

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder on Monday said the incident resulted from “some type of malfunction” in which a rocket-launching truck was “shooting rockets all over the place.”

A fighter aircraft affiliated with the US-led coalition destroyed the truck in response, defense officials said. 

Two US defense officials later told Al-Monitor the barrage was deemed a deliberate attempt to target the Rumalyn base, marking the first attempted attack on US personnel in Iraq and Syria since February.

Attacks in last 24 hours

The apparent attacks threatened the uneasy detente between US forces and Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq even as two projectile attacks targeted US bases in those countries in a less than 24-hour span.

Bases housing US troops in Iraq and Syria in the aftermath of the war against the Islamic State group have come under small-scale rocket, drone and missile attacks more than 170 times between mid-October 2023 and February 2024.

But the barrages halted in February after a series of retaliatory US airstrikes culminated in a US drone strike in Baghdad that killed Kataib Hezbollah's top commander for the group's operations in Syria.  

On Monday, hours after the rockets landed near the Rumalyn base, US forces at the Ain al-Asad Air Base in Iraq’s western Anbar province shot down two airborne drones.

A US defense official told Al-Monitor it was not clear that the Ain al-Asad base was the target of the drone, but said US officials were not yet counting it as an attempted attack on American troops.

The airbase had borne the brunt of attacks by Iran-backed militias in the months following the outbreak of Israel's war in the Gaza Strip, for which Iran-backed groups across the Middle East have vowed retaliation.

Kataib Hezbollah was formed in 2007 with the aim of expelling US forces from Iraq. Washington designated the group as a terror organization in 2009. It is believed to include around 10,000 fighters and is mainly active in Iraq and Syria. It is part of the Popular Mobilization Units, an official security force made up of several factions, including some with ties to Iran. 

Earlier on Saturday, an explosion hit a base belonging to the PMU in the Babil province in central Iraq, killing at least one person and injuring eight others. 

Both the US military and Israel have denied responsibility for that incident. The source of the explosion remains unclear.

Update: April 22, 2024. This article has been updated since its initial publication.