The Iraqi government has condemned US air strikes south of Baghdad that killed eight members of Iran-aligned armed group Kataib Hezbollah, Reuters has reported. The government said that the strikes were a “dangerous escalation” not coordinated with the authorities in the capital.
The US has carried out two series of air strikes in Iraq since yesterday apparently in response to more than 60 attacks by Iran-aligned militias against forces in the region. The strikes destroyed a Kataib Hezbollah operations centre and a command and control node.
Until this week, the US had been reluctant to retaliate in Iraq because of the delicate political situation in Baghdad, where Washington has sought closer cooperation, and in an effort to avoid regional spill-over from the Israeli war against the Palestinians in Gaza.
The US had previously undertaken three separate sets of air strikes in Syria in response to the attacks, which began on 17 October, and have been linked by Iraqi militia groups to US support for Israel in its bombardment of Gaza.
According to Kataib Hezbollah, eight of its members were killed in its stronghold of Jurf Al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad. The group threatened to attack a wider array of targets if US strikes continue.
The Iraqi government condemned the US air strikes as “a clear violation of sovereignty and an attempt to disrupt the stable internal security situation,” while also noting attacks by armed groups went against Iraq’s national interest.
It said that the air strikes were a violation of the advisory role of international forces in Iraq to fight the remnants of Daesh/ISIS, which a number of factions in Iraq’s Shia Muslim ruling coalition say they want ousted.
About 24 hours earlier, US forces were attacked by close-range ballistic missiles at Ain Al-Asad Air Base west of Baghdad, resulting in eight injuries and minor infrastructure damage, said US officials. A US military AC-130 aircraft responded in self-defence, killing Iranian-backed militants, they added.
Kataib Hezbollah said that one their members was killed in that strike. The group is part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, a group of many mainly Shia Muslim armed groups that was formed in 2014 to fight Daesh/ISIS and subsequently recognised as an official security agency by Iraq’s government.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani has limited control over some Iran-backed factions, whose support he needed to win power a year ago and who now form a powerful bloc in his governing coalition. Many of the factions do not see eye-to-eye on operations against US forces.
The US has 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq on a mission it says aims to advise and assist local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of Daesh/ISIS, which in 2014 seized large swathes of both countries before being defeated.
Source : MEMO