Iranian-backed Iraqi militia attacks targeting US forces has impeded the US-led international campaign to defeat ISIS in recent months, according to the Lead Inspector General’s quarterly report. US advisory forces are deployed to Iraq under Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) at the request of the Iraqi federal government to advise and assist partner forces to “independently maintain the enduring defeat of ISIS.” The Iranian-backed attack campaign targeting US forces has required OIR to divert resources from supporting Iraqi partners to instead address “increased” and “immediate” threats. OIR reported that the redirected resources “hindered momentum” in pursuing OIR’s objectives. The previous OIR quarterly report at the end of 2023 said that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) already faces deficiencies in fire support, intelligence, logistics, and planning that prevent it from defeating ISIS alone.
Palestinian militias have claimed at least 92 attacks targeting Israeli forces in Zaytoun, southeastern Gaza City, between February 19 and February 28. At least seven Palestinian militias conducted attacks on Israeli forces in Zaytoun on February 27 and 28. Palestinian militias have targeted Israeli forces with rocket propelled grenades, mortars, explosively-formed penetrators (EFP), improvised explosive devices, small arms, and rockets in Zaytoun since February 19. These attacks are in response to the ongoing division-sized clearing operation targeting Zaytoun.
Two Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated sources told the New York Times that Iranian-backed Iraqi militias “fiercely resisted” IRGC Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani’s orders in late January to halt attacks targeting US forces in the region. The two IRGC-affiliated sources claimed that Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba commanders refused to stop attacking US forces during a meeting with Ghaani in Baghdad, which Reuters reported occurred on January 29. Iranian and Iraqi sources added that senior Iraqi Shia clerics in Najaf and influential Iraqi politicians, including the Iraqi prime minister, convinced Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba to halt the attacks.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced that its 162nd Division uncovered a Hamas tunnel network connecting the Central Gaza Governorate to the northern Gaza Strip over the past several weeks. The IDF Nahal Brigade and Yahalom combat engineering unit located at least 35 entrances to the 10-kilometer-long complex equipped with plumbing, storage rooms, bedrooms, and military equipment. The tunnel passed under the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital in the central Gaza Strip and extended to al Isra University in southern Gaza City. The IDF said that Hamas used the tunnel system to transfer personnel between the Central Brigade and Gaza City Brigade, particularly between the Zaytoun Battalion, the Nuseirat Battalion, and Sabra Battalion.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued clearing operations in Zaytoun neighborhood, southeastern Gaza City, on February 25. The IDF Nahal Brigade (assigned to the 162nd Division) targeted Palestinian fighters, destroyed rocket launch sites, and located weapons during clearing operations in Zaytoun. IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi held a situational assessment meeting in the northern Gaza Strip with the commanders of Southern Command and the 162nd Division. Halevi stated that Israeli forces are returning to previously cleared areas in the northern Gaza Strip “based on better intelligence“ to ”deepen achievements“ against Hamas.
Three US and Israeli officials told Axios that the Biden administration asked Israel to stop targeting members of the Hamas-run police force who escort aid trucks in the Gaza Strip. The administration warned that a “total breakdown of law and order” is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the strip. The Guardian similarly reported on January 30 that there is a general breakdown in law and order in the Gaza Strip. Aid officials reported several incidents of unspecified personnel looting aid trucks. The IDF has targeted Hamas’ police and internal security apparatus to disrupt Hamas’ attempts to rebuild its governing authority. The Civil Police and the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry's Internal Security Forces in the Gaza Strip both employ fighters from the Hamas military wing.
Iran and the Houthis are likely using their attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to test and refine their approach to striking naval targets. Houthi leader Abdulmalik al Houthi stated on February 22 that the group will “escalate” its operations targeting shipping around the Red Sea. Abdulmalik added that the group would introduce "submarine weapons,” likely referring to unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), but gave no further details. CENTCOM reported that the Houthis used a UUV for the first time to threaten shipping around the Red Sea on February 17. The Houthis — enabled directly by Iran — have used combinations of cruise and ballistic missiles as well as aerial, surface, and underwater drones to attack civilian and military vessels around the Red Sea since November 2023. Iranian military advisers are providing targeting intelligence to support the Houthis’ attacks targeting US naval vessels.
Iranian sources told Reuters on February 21 that Iran provided hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) to Russia in early January. The three unspecified Iranian sources said that Iran provided roughly 400 SRBMs to Russia, including the Fateh-110 and the Zolfaghar. The sources said that Iran has sent at least four SRBM shipments to Russia since Iran and Russia concluded a missile sale agreement in late 2023.
Russia may be setting conditions to supplant the United States as a security partner in Iraq in anticipation of the United States possibly reducing its military presence there. Russian Ambassador to Iraq Elbrus Kutrashev has met with several senior Iraqi political and military officials to discuss security cooperation since late January 2024. Kutrashev met with:
The Houthi movement launched an anti-ship ballistic missile that struck and disabled the UK-owned, Belize-flagged Rubymar cargo ship in the Bab al Mandeb strait on February 18. The Rubymar’s Lebanon-based management company said that the vessel took on water after the missile struck the vessel’s engine room. The Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the cargo vessel had completely sunk about 22 hours after the attack occurred. Neither the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) nor CENTCOM has said that the Rubymar sunk.... This incident marks the first time that a crew has had to abandon ship after a Houthi attack since Houthi attacks began during this round of escalation on November 19. The Houthi military spokesperson falsely claimed that the Houthis “made sure that the ship’s crew exited safely.”