Iranian drones are seen during a large-scale drone combat exercise in Semnan in January, 2021. (AFP)

February 8, 2022

Iran is expanding its militia threat across the Middle East region – right through to Iraq. The country has been arming, mobilizing and advising militias in Iraq for many years, influencing Iraqi groups back into the 1980s.

But recently, it has established even closer ties with these groups and is now using them to attack Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other states.

February 2022 attack on the UAE

The news that a militia in Iraq may have been behind an attack on the UAE this week is an important new milestone in Iran’s role there.

“A little-known militant group has claimed the latest drone attack on the United Arab Emirates, raising the possibility of widening security risks after a wave of assaults from Yemeni rebels,” AFP reported.

The Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen attacked the UAE on January 17, 24 and 31. The expansion of attacks to include Iranian-backed ones from Iraq is being seen as a new threat, despite this not actually being the case; it is only new to the Emirates. The attack from Iraq this week reportedly involved up to four drones and was launched by a group tied to pro-Iran groups in Iraq.

 Second anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in Baghdad (credit: SABA KAREEM/REUTERS)Second anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in Baghdad. (REUTERS)

May 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia

In May 2019, Kataib Hezbollah was allegedly behind an attack on Saudi Arabia. Al-Arabiya wrote that “Kata’ib Hezbollah is also suspected of drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in 2019.

“On May 14, 2019, Saudi Arabia announced that two oil-pumping stations for the East-West pipeline had been hit by explosive-laden drones, calling the attack ‘an act of terrorism’ that targeted global oil supplies,” it reported. The Daily Beast and other publications also wrote that the Iraqi-based militia was behind the attack.

January 2021 attack on Saudi Arabia

In May 2020, Al-Arabiya reported that “Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, issued a statement last week calling for terrorist attacks to be launched against Saudi Arabia.” In January 2021, reports emerged of new drone attacks on the kingdom.

“Explosive-laden drones that targeted Saudi Arabia’s royal palace in the kingdom’s capital last month [January 2021] were launched from inside Iraq, a senior Iran-backed militia official in Baghdad and a US official said,”  the Associated Press reported. This was another important milestone in Iran using drones to attack countries in the region.

May 2021 attack on Israel

Iran had targeted Israel with a drone flown from Syria’s T-4 base in 2018. Hezbollah brought drones to an area near the Golan Heights the following year. Tehran upped its drone threats to Israel in May 2021 during Israeli clashes with Hamas in Gaza. It had already provided Hamas with drone technology, just as it had done with Hezbollah and the Houthis.

Also that May, Iran was behind a drone threat to Israel from Iraq, with a drone apparently flying all the way from Iraq into Israel’s airspace before being shot down. The incident was reported at the time. Jerusalem said the drone was an Iranian UAV at the time and indicated it came from Syria or Iraq. Subsequent reporting said it came from Iraq.

Attacks on US forces in Iraq

Drones used by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have increasingly been used to attack US forces there. According to reports in The New York Times, a drone was used in April 2021 to attack a “CIA hangar” at Erbil International Airport.

Another attack occurred that September. “A statement by the Kurdish counter-terrorism force said the attack had been carried out by explosive-laden drones. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Witnesses said they heard at least six explosions in the area. The airport in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, has come under attack several times in the past year, including by drones carrying explosives,” France24 reported at the time.

The numerous incidents of Iran using drones flown from Iraq by its militias to attack countries illustrates the rising threat of Iran’s drones and the militias that operate them in the region. Reports have illustrated how Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis have expanded their drone arsenal.

In addition, Iran has moved drones to Syria and used them to attack bases such as the US Tanf garrison. Drones have been used to attack ships as well, such as a deadly attack last year on a tanker in the Gulf of Oman; now the drone wars are expanding to target the UAE.

The Jerusalem Post

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.