BAGHDAD – Shiite militias backed by Iran have ramped up attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, making June the deadliest month in two years for American forces. The militiamen’s goal is to prevent the U.S. military from extending its presence in the country past the end of this year.
Three separate militias have been involved in the attacks, particularly a small but deadly group known as the Hezbollah Brigades, believed to be funded and trained by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard and its special operations wing, the Quds Force.
The militia attacks – mainly in the Shiite heartland in southern Iraq – raise the prospect of increased violence against Americans if a residual U.S. force remains in the country past 2011, a possibility being considered by the Baghdad government to help maintain a still fragile security.
They also point to the persistent efforts by Shiite-majority Iran, the United States’ top regional rival, to influence Iraq after the Americans’ exit.
In the latest American deaths, a senior U.S. official in Baghdad said Thursday that three U.S. troops were killed a day earlier when a huge rocket known as an IRAM struck a remote desert base just a few miles from the Iranian border in Iraq’s southern Wasit province.
The deaths brought the monthly U.S. military toll to 15, nearly all of them of them from attacks suspected to have been planned by Shiite militias. That’s the highest number of military deaths in Iraq since June 2009, and the most combat-related deaths since June 2008. Since March 2003, 4,469 American troops have died in Iraq.
The IRAMs are a hallmark of Hezbollah Brigades, or Kataib Hezbollah, a militia that U.S. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the military’s top spokesman in Iraq, said is almost exclusively reliant on Iran.
The Hezbollah Brigades, which has links to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, is solely focused on attacking U.S. troops and other American personnel and claimed responsibility for a June 6 rocket attack that killed five soldiers in Baghdad.