Visiting Baghdad last week, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander urged Iraqi Shi’ite militias to increase their attacks on United States targets, Reuters reported Tuesday, quoting multiple Iraqi sources.
A senior official in the region told the news agency that Revolutionary Guards intelligence chief Hossein Taeb led a delegation that met several Iraqi militia leaders and conveyed “the [Iranian] supreme leader’s message to them about keeping up pressure on US forces in Iraq until they leave the region.”
Several militia sources were quoted as saying that the Iranians advised them to increase their attacks against US forces but not to go too far, to avoid a serious escalation.
Indeed, in the days following the meeting, Reuters reported, US forces in both Iraq and Syria reported an increase in attacks against them.
The US has blamed Iran-backed militia groups for previous attacks, most of them rocket attacks that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and military bases across Iraq.
The attacks have been increasingly frequent since a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack.
The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a non-binding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.
Thousands of Iran-backed militiamen from around the Middle East are also deployed in different parts of Syria, many of them in areas along the border with Iraq.
Iran-backed fighters have joined President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria’s 10-year conflict. Their presence helped tip the balance of power in Assad’s favor.
The Reuters report came as Iran has engaged in talks with world powers in Vienna on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
The agreement, which limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions relief, has been on life support since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.
Tehran and Washington have held indirect negotiations in the Austrian capital since early April.
Iran and the US have had no diplomatic relations since 1980, and tensions between them worsened during Trump’s tenure.