January 24, 2024

Iraq slams US over strikes on Iran-backed groups

Iraq slams US over strikes on Iran-backed groups

Iraq accused the United States of contributing to a “reckless escalation” of violence in the region after American air strikes targeted Iran-backed groups in the country on Wednesday.

The pre-dawn air raid came against an already explosive regional backdrop, fuelled by the war in Gaza between Washington’s ally Israel and the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said US forces had carried out “necessary and proportionate strikes” against “three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Ketaeb Hezbollah militia group (the Hezbollah Brigades) and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq”.

“These precision strikes are in direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against US and coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias,” he said, referring to the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

US-led coalition forces in Iraq and Syria have been targeted in more than 150 attacks since mid-October, many of them claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-linked groups that oppose US support for Israel in the Gaza conflict.

US forces have carried out a number of air strikes against the groups they hold responsible, drawing a backlash from Iraq which has demanded the coalition’s withdrawal, accusing it of overstepping its mission to assist the campaign against IS jihadists.

“This unacceptable act undermines years of cooperation, blatantly violates Iraq’s sovereignty and contributes to a reckless escalation… at a time when the region is already grappling with the danger of expanding conflict,” said a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani.

“We will treat these operations as acts of aggression and take necessary actions to preserve the lives and dignity of Iraqis,” added Yehia Rasool, the Iraqi leader’s spokesman for military affairs.

– ‘Flagrant violation’ –

His comments were echoed by Iraqi National Security Adviser Qassem al-Araji who said the pre-dawn strikes were another “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty” and “do not help bring calm”.

“The US side should pile on pressure for a halt to the (Israeli) offensive in Gaza rather than targeting and bombing the bases of an Iraqi national body,” Araji said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, referring to the Hashed al-Shaabi.

According to Iraqi sources, the US strikes targeted the Hezbollah Brigades, a group affiliated with the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation force), an alliance of Iran-backed former paramilitary groups now integrated in Iraq’s regular armed forces.

They hit sites in the Jurf al-Sakhr area, south of Baghdad, as well as in the Al-Qaim area on the border with Syria.

One person was killed and others were wounded in the bombardments of the Al-Qaim sector, the Hashed said in a statement. Initially, an interior ministry official and a source in the Hashed reported two dead and two wounded in that attack.

After previous US strikes, the Iraqi prime minister has called for the US-led coalition to leave, saying the deployment must end to ensure Iraq’s security.

There are roughly 2,500 US troops in Iraq and some 900 in neighbouring Syria.

– Drones targeted –

The US military said the latest strikes targeted Hezbollah Brigades “headquarters, storage and training locations for rocket, missile and one-way attack UAV (drone) capabilities”.

Classified as a “terrorist” group by Washington and subject to US sanctions, the Brigades have already been targeted by US strikes in recent weeks. The group has publicly supported the Islamic Resistance in Iraq.

Late on Tuesday, several drones targeted an airbase in Iraq hosting US troops, causing injuries and damage, a US military official said.

“Multiple attack drones were launched” at the Ain al-Assad base in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, a US military official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

“Latest reports include injuries and damage to infrastructure,” said the official, adding he did not have further details as yet.

An Iraqi security official, meanwhile, said a drone was shot down as it attempted to target the base.

In a statement, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for two drone attacks against the base on Tuesday, saying they were acting in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The same base was targeted by at least a dozen missiles on Saturday in what White House Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer described as a “very serious” attack.

Vanguard News