BAGHDAD — Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias are threatening to retaliate against American interests inside Iraq if the United States goes ahead with strikes against the Tehran-allied government in neighboring Syria, according to Iraqi security officials and militants themselves.
Iraqi officials say they are taking the warnings seriously. The threats, which come as President Obama and Congress debate possible military action because of the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons, risk exacerbating an increasingly deteriorating security environment inside Iraq.
Cleric Wathiq al-Batat, who leads the Mukhtar Army, an Iranian-backed militia, said his forces are preparing for a strong reaction against the interests of the United States and other countries that take part in a Syria strike. He said the militants have selected hundreds of potential targets, which could include both official US sites and companies ‘‘associated with the Americans.’’
‘‘There is a good level of coordination with Iran on this issue and I cannot reveal more. But I can say that there will be a strong response,’’ he told Associated Press. ‘‘Each armed group will have duties to carry out.’’
Al-Batat was a senior official in Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades, which is believed to be funded and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
He rose to greater prominence earlier this year when the group he claims to lead issued threats against Sunni residents in parts of Baghdad. He later claimed responsibility for deadly rocket attacks on a Baghdad-area camp housing Iranian dissidents opposed to the clerical regime in Tehran.
Iraq’s government is officially neutral on the Syrian civil war and it has called for a negotiated political solution. Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership has bolstered ties with Shi’ite heavyweight Iran in the years since the 2003 US-led invasion, and it is concerned about the threat posed by Sunni extremists, including Iraq’s Al Qaeda branch, fighting among the rebels
Other Iraqi Shi’ite militias with ties to Tehran are talking tough, including the Hezbollah Brigades, which has taken responsibility for past attacks on US troops in Iraq. It said that US and allied interests ‘‘must be removed from the region.’’
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-backed hard-line faction that also carried out deadly attacks against US troops before their withdrawal, said in a statement this week that action against Syria ‘‘will set the region on fire. The interests of the Western countries will not be saved from this fire.’’
The Asaib Ahl al-Haq official, who refused to be identified, fearing retribution, said the militias are awaiting instructions from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on the timing and method of any attacks.