Gen. Esmail Qa’ani, head of the Iran Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Forces, speaks at a ceremony in Tehran, January 3, 2024

US Kills Iran-Backed Iraqi Militia Commander

Iran has told militias in Iraq to suspend attacks on US personnel, amid American retaliation for the killing of three US troops in Jordan on January 28, say “multiple Iranian and Iraqi sources”.

The commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards branch for operations outside the Islamic Republic, met representatives of several militia on January 29.

Gen. Esmail Qa’ani warned the militias of an intense US response. He advised the group to take cover, avoiding US strikes on senior commanders and key infrastructure or even a direct strike on Iran.

The sources — three Iranian officials, a senior Iraqi security official, three Iraqi Shi’ite politicians, four sources in Iran-backed Iraqi armed groups, and four Iraq-focused diplomats — say all but one faction initially agreed to Qaani’s request. The next day Kata’ib Hezbollah, blamed by the US for a series of attacks, announced it was suspending the rocket and drone strikes.

After more than 160 assaults since October 7 — the date of Hamas’ mass killing inside Israel, to be followed by Israeli mass killings in Gaza — the Iran-backed factions have not attacked since February 4.

An Iraqi militia commander said, “Without Qa’ani’s direct intervention, it would have been impossible to convince Kata’ib Hezbollah to halt its military operations to de-escalate the tension.”

The sources said Iran’s leadership was concerned about a repetition of the January 2020 US drone strike that killed Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Kata’ib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on a road near Baghdad Inernational Airport.

“The Iranians learned their lesson from the liquidation of Soleimani and did not want this to be repeated,” said a “senior Iraqi security source”.

Qa’ani’s visit was quick and he did not leave the airport “for strict security reasons and fearing for his safety,” said the senior Iraqi security source.

Only the Nujaba faction rejected Qa’ani’s call for suspension. However, after the US killed Kata’ib Hezbollah leader Abu Baqir al-Saadi — also a member of the Iraqi State’s Popular Mobilization Forces — on February 7, an umbrella group of the hardline factions vowed to resume operations.

At a funeral service for al-Saadi, senior Kata’ib Hezbollah official and PMF military chief Abdul Aziz al-Mohammedawi stopped short of pledging strikes while declaring, “Revenge for the martyr Abu Baqir al-Saadi means the exit of all foreign forces from Iraq. We won’t accept anything less than that.”