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US Designates Iraq-Based, Iran-Aligned Militia Group as Terrorist Organization

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The State Department designated the Iraq-based Harakat Ansar Allah al-Awfiya as a terrorist group and linked it to a deadly Jan. 28 drone attack on U.S. troops.

The United States designated the Iraqi militia group Harakat Ansar Allah al-Awfiya (HAAA) as a terrorist organization on June 17 after linking the group to a deadly January attack.

The U.S. State Department announced it had named the Iraqi militia group and its secretary general, Haydar Muzhir Ma’lak al-Sa’idi, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).

“HAAA is an Iraq-based Iran-aligned militia group and part of the ‘Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI)’—a front group that includes multiple Iran-aligned terrorist and militia groups, including U.S.-designated terrorist organizations Kata’ib Hizballah, Harakat al-Nujaba, and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, that have repeatedly attacked Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Monday.

Mr. Miller said HAAA and the IRI, more broadly, were responsible for a deadly Jan. 28 attack on a U.S. military outpost in Jordan, known as Tower 22. Three U.S. Army soldiers were killed, and around 40 other U.S. military personnel were injured when an explosive-laden drone detonated inside the Tower 22 outpost.

The State Department spokesman said HAAA has publicly threatened to launch additional attacks targeting interests in the region and “terrorized the Iraqi people.”

HAAA and the Islamic Resistance in Iraq

HAAA is one of numerous predominantly Shiite Islamic paramilitary formations active within Iraq. Many of these Iraqi paramilitary groups rose to prominence over the past decade while confronting the rise of ISIS, a Salafist Sunni Islamic extremist faction.

The Popular Mobilization Front was formed in 2014 to oversee many of these Iraqi paramilitary formations, and the organization is recognized as a component of the Iraqi government. Still, these various disparate Iraqi paramilitaries have conflicting motivations and have been associated closely with the government of Iran.

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While the U.S. military is also leading a counter-ISIS effort in Iraq, known as Operation Inherent Resolve, it has also had to fend off attacks from Iraqi paramilitary groups affiliated with Iran.

These clashes between U.S. troops and Iran-friendly Iraqi paramilitary groups have often coincided with periods of particularly strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran.

U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria had reported dozens of drone and rocket attacks from suspected Iran-backed militias last fall as the U.S. government expanded its force presence in the Middle East and offered security assistance for Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip. U.S. forces had begun to directly target some of these Iraqi militia groups in the weeks before the Jan. 28 attack on the Tower 22 outpost.

While the U.S. government has had to increasingly contend with these Iraqi militias, they’ve also had to navigate their partnership with the Iraqi government. In recent years, the U.S. government has added terrorism designations against several Iraqi militia formations while attempting to distinguish these Iraqi militias from the Iraqi government’s Popular Mobilization Front. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has, in turn, grown in use as a term for identifying pro-Iranian Iraqi militias engaged in hostilities with U.S. forces.

The IRI is responsible for several other recent attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East, according to the State Department. Those attacks include a Jan. 20 rocket barrage on the Asad Air Base in Western Iraq and attacks targeting U.S. outposts guarding oil facilities in Syria last fall.

The U.S. government has considered one IRI component—the Kata’ib Hizballah—as a foreign terrorist organization and as Specially Designated Global Terrorists since 2009.

The United States applied a terrorist designation against another IRI component known as Harakat al-Nujaba (also referred to as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba or HAN) in March 2019.

U.S. forces reported killing HAN leader Mushtaq Jawad Kazim al-Jawari this January in what the U.S. Department of Defense described as a “self-defense” strike in response to alleged HAN attacks targeting U.S. personnel.

The U.S. government also designated Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada as another SDGT in November 2023.

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