This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 20 January 2016.
Key Take-Away: Iraqi Shi’a militias significantly escalated their confrontation with the U.S. by kidnapping three American contractors and an interpreter in southern Baghdad on January 15, reportedly from the apartment of the interpreter. While no group has claimed responsibility, Iraqi Shi’a militias proliferate both the neighborhood of abduction, al-Dora, as well as Sadr City, the northeastern neighborhood to which the contractors were reportedly taken. Iranian proxy militias were responsible for kidnapping American servicemen before the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. Iraqi Shi’a militias carried out similar kidnappings of Turkish citizens in Baghdad in September 2015 and Qatari citizens in Muthanna Province in December 2015. The kidnapping of the American citizens came just one day before the release of four American prisoners by Iran and two days before the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran in response to an Iranian ballistic missile test in October 2015. The timing of the kidnapping suggests that Iranian proxies did not kidnap the contractors in response to the additional sanctions, but did so in order to secure future leverage over the U.S. However, the possibility remains that an Iranian proxy militia may have conducted the kidnapping without a direct order from their supervisors in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF). Regardless of intent, the kidnapping underscores the impunity with which Iranian proxies operate as well as the persistent threat they pose to U.S. personnel and interests.