An Iranian order intercepted by the United States instructs Shiite militia groups in Iraq to attack the American Embassy in Baghdad should the U.S. strike Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The intercepted message reportedly came from the head of Iran's Qods Force, a paramilitary arm of the country's Revolutionary Guards. The order directs militias to prepare to respond with force should the U.S. attack the Bashar Assad regime, Iran's ally.
The Associated Press also reported Friday that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are threatening retaliation inside Iraq, citing Iraqi security officials and Shiite militants.
Iraqi officials say they are taking the warnings seriously. The threats, which come asand over 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, a shadowy Iranian-backed militia, said his forces are preparing for a strong reaction against the interests of the U.S. and other countries that take part in any Syria strike. He claimed that militants have selected hundreds of potential targets, which could include both official American 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 The Associated Press. "Each armed group will have duties to carry out."
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-backed hard-line faction that also carried out deadly attacks against U.S. 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."
A senior Asaib Ahl al-Haq official said multiple armed groups within Iraq are "fully prepared to respond to any strike on Syria by attacking the interests of the countries that participate in this strike, including the United States," although he declined to specify any potential targets.
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.
Iranian officials denied plotting attacks against the U.S. in Iraq Friday, according to the Journal, which quotes Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran's United Nations mission, as saying the allegation was baseless and meant to "provoke the Congress" into authorizing a strike on Syria.
Iraq's government is officially neutral on the Syrian civil war and it has called for a negotiated political solution. Iraq's Shiite leadership has bolstered ties with Shiite heavyweight Iran in the years since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and it is concerned about the threat posed by Sunni extremists, including Iraq's al-Qaida branch, fighting among the rebels.
Iraqi officials say they are taking the warnings seriously.