Iraq-Syria border after US air strikes on February 26, 2021
Iraq-Syria border after US air strikes on February 26, 2021Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander urged Iraqi Shiite militias to step up attacks on US targets during a meeting in Baghdad last week, three militia sources and two Iraqi security sources familiar with the gathering told Reuters on Tuesday.

American forces in Iraq and Syria were attacked several times following the visit by an Iranian delegation led by Revolutionary Guards intelligence chief Hossein Taeb.

While encouraging retaliation, the Iranians advised the Iraqis not to go too far to avoid a big escalation, three militia sources briefed on the meeting said.

The Iranians did, however, advise them to widen their attacks by retaliating against US forces in Syria, according to one of the three militia sources, a senior local militia commander briefed on the meeting.

Rocket attacks have regularly targeted Iraqi bases as well as the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, where the US embassy is located, since the US elimination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last January.

The tensions have flared up recently, however. Two weeks ago, the US launched air strikes against three targets it said were used by pro-Iran groups in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

A day later, pro-Iranian militias fired several shells at a US base in eastern Syria's Al-Omar oil field, causing damage but no casualties.

Subsequently, a drone was intercepted and shot down near the US embassy in Baghdad. Sources said the drone failed to reach the embassy compound. There were no injuries.

Then, an explosive-laden drone attacked Erbil airport in northern Iraq. The drone reportedly targeted the US base on the airport grounds. A day later, two rockets were fired at the US embassy inside Baghdad's Green Zone.

The embassy's anti-rocket system diverted one of the rockets and the second rocket fell near the zone's perimeter.

A senior official in the region, who was briefed by Iranian authorities on Taeb’s visit, said according to Reuters that Taeb met several Iraqi militia leaders during the trip and conveyed “the Supreme Leader’s message to them about keeping up pressure on US forces in Iraq until they leave the region”.