Pentagon officials say it is in retaliation for drone strikes against US troops in Iraq

US strikes pro-Iranian militias on the Syria-Iraq border

PHOTO/AFP - US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles flying over Northern Iraq

The United States has once again attacked pro-Iranian militias on the Syrian-Iraqi border. This is the second time that, under the authorisation of US President Joe Biden, US aircraft have bombed various operational and weapons storage facilities linked to the Kataeb Hezbollah and Kataeb Sayid al Shuhadah militias. These attacks come in the midst of vitally important talks between Iran and the various countries that made up the 2015 nuclear pact with the aim of getting both the Islamic Republic and the United States to recommit to the agreement.

The last few weeks have seen a continuous exchange of confrontations between the US and Iran, which on more than one occasion could have endangered the return to the nuclear pact. The elections in the Persian country were crucial for the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Western powers feared that if the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi finally emerged, the Vienna talks could stall.

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Ebrahim Raisi, however, during his first press conference after being elected as Iran's new president, assured that negotiations for a return to the nuclear deal would continue during his presidency. The United States, for its part, criticised the elections as neither "free nor fair". Shortly after the Iranian elections, the US Department of Justice blocked access to 33 Iran-related websites accused of conducting a "global disinformation campaign" to influence US policy and promote Iranian propaganda around the world.

In response, Mahmoud Vaezi, chief of staff to current Iranian president Hasan Rohani, accused the US of acting in a manner that is "not constructive" to the ongoing talks on the nuclear deal. The Islamic Republic has decided to lay its cards on the table and has refused to renew the agreement it reached with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), under which the agency could carry out inspections and verifications of Iran's nuclear programme. This agreement came to an end on 24 June and, according to IAEA Director Rafael Grossi, no new agreement has been reached so far.

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Iran has stressed that the interim bilateral agreement with the UN nuclear agency on inspections "should not be considered an obligation" for the country, which is only committed to complying with the controls. Tension between the Persian country and the United States seems to be on the rise as a seventh round of negotiations in Vienna is expected to finally bring about a return to the nuclear deal. However, far from calming the escalating tension between the two countries, early Monday morning the US "conducted precision defensive airstrikes against facilities used by Iranian-backed militias in the border region between Iraq and Syria", according to an official statement from the US Department of Defense.


The statement justifies these strikes under the right to self-defence because "these facilities are used by Iranian-backed militias engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq," according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. US forces based in Iraq have been the target of several drone strikes in recent months and blame Iranian-linked Iraqi factions for the attacks. The Pentagon has clarified that these bombings have been approved in retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq that killed a civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops.

The US Department of Defence has not made public whether the offensive has resulted in fatalities. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has confirmed the death of five Iraqi militia fighters in Syria. In addition, the London-based organisation says that several more militiamen were wounded "in an attack by US warplanes".


The US still maintains around 2,500 troops as part of an international coalition fighting the jihadist group Daesh. The Pentagon's spokesman, John Kirby, stressed that "we are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq for the sole purpose of assisting Iraqi security forces in their efforts to defeat Daesh. The United States took the necessary, appropriate and deliberate steps to limit the risk of escalation, but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message".

It is risky to predict how Iran might respond to these attacks on regime-linked militias, but it is clear that negotiations for a return to the US-Islamic Republic nuclear deal are at their most fragile and any act could be decisive in ending the negotiations in disarray.