While the Biden administration has yet to formally attribute blame for a rocket attack that hit Al Asad airbase in Iraq on Wednesday, anonymous US officials are telling the media that an “Iranian-backed” militia was responsible.
Two officials told Politico that they believe Kataib Hezbollah or an affiliated group was involved in the attack. Kataib Hezbollah is an Iraqi Shia militia that falls under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a coalition of state-sponsored militias that formed in 2014 to fight ISIS.
After President Biden bombed eastern Syria last week, the Pentagon said Kataib Hezbollah was one of the groups it targeted. The US framed the Syrian airstrikes as a “defensive” and “proportionate” response to rocket attacks on other US facilities in Iraq that happened in February, which Kataib Hezbollah denied any role in.
It’s not clear if Kataib Hezbollah was involved in last month’s attacks on US bases, but they certainly have a motive to fire on the US now. But just because US officials are blaming Kataib Hezbollah does not mean they’re responsible. Washington has a history of blaming the group for incidents without providing evidence to back up the claim.
As far as the “Iranian-backed” part, it’s true that Iran supports Kataib Hezbollah and many Iraqi Shia militias, but it’s not clear how much influence Tehran actually has on these groups. All signs indicate Iran is not looking to escalate tensions with Washington, as Tehran is seeking sanctions relief from the Biden administration.
A report from Middle East Eye following Biden’s Syria airstrike said Iran and its Iraqi allies were seeking a de-escalation but feared Kataib Hezbollah would respond anyway, a sign that the militia is not as controlled by Iran as the US claims.
The US is threatening military action over the Al Asad attack. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week’s Syria airstrikes could be a “model” for a possible response.