WASHINGTON — The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Military officials have been trying to predict the range of possible responses from Syria, Iran and their allies. U.S. officials said they are on alert for Iran’s fleet of small, fast boats in the Persian Gulf, where some U.S. warships are positioned.
The Journal reported that some officials believe a direct response from the Syrian or Iranian governments is less likely than reprisals from allied militant groups, such as Lebanese militant ally Hezbollah, which could attack the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
The State Department issued a new alert Thursday warning against nonessential travel to Iraq and citing terrorist activity “at levels unseen since 2008.”
The Iranian message, intercepted in recent days, came from Qasem Soleimani, the head of Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, and went to Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups in Iraq, according to the Journal, citing U.S. officials.
In it, Soleimani said Shiite groups must be prepared to respond with force after a U.S. strike on Syria.
Iraqi Shiites have been sympathetic to the Alawite-dominated government of Syria and oppose U.S. strikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Journal noted.
U.S. officials told the paper that the Embassy in Baghdad was one likely target. The officials didn’t describe the range of potential targets indicated by the intelligence.
Attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad have fallen since American forces left Iraq. In the past, Iranian-trained Shiite groups have fired rockets and mortars at the embassy, at the urging of the Qods Force, a paramilitary arm of Iran’s forces.
Syrians could also respond with “a vicious offensive” against the opposition inside Syria, Aaron David Miller, a former top Middle East negotiator in the State Department who now is a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told the Journal. Such a move, he said, would be a way “to demonstrate defiance” without running the risk of hitting American targets.