Iraqi government denounces latest US strikes on Iran-linked militias

At least two fighters were killed and two wounded when US forces hit sites in central and western Iraq

Militants belonging to Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces militia chant slogans ahead of the funeral for members of the group in Baghdad on January 4. AFP
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The Iraqi government on Wednesday denounced overnight US strikes against Iran-backed Shiite militias in central and western Iraq as a "blatant violation" of the country's sovereignty.

The US military hit militia sites in the town of Jurf Al Sakhar, south of Baghdad, as well as in the town of Al Qaim on the western border with Syria, security officials and militias said.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said President Joe Biden had directed US military forces to conduct “necessary and proportionate” strikes on sites used by the Kataib Hezbollah militia 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,” Mr Austin said.

The military spokesman for Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, Maj Gen Yahya Rasool, said the US attacks “undermine years of co-operation, blatantly violate Iraq’s sovereignty and lead to irresponsible escalation at a time when the region faces the danger of conflict escalation and the repercussions of the aggression on Gaza”.

He warned that Iraq will “deal with these operations as aggressive acts and take all necessary measures to preserve the lives and dignity of Iraqis”.

Iraq's National Security Adviser Qasim Al Araji described the strikes as “an aggression and blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.

“This doesn’t help calm the situation,” Mr Al Araji said on X, formerly Twitter.

The US strikes came days after a barrage of ballistic missiles hit Ain Al Asad airbase, where US forces are stationed, in western Iraq, leaving several US personnel wounded.

Tension has soared between US troops and Iran-backed militias after scores of attacks against Americans forces in Iraq and Syria after the outbreak of the Gaza war in early October.

The militias say their attacks are in response to Washington's support for Israel in its fight against Hamas.

The escalation shattered a year-long calm between the militias and US forces in Iraq after the establishment of Mr Al Sudani’s government.

In his post on Wednesday, Mr Al Araji said the US should "put pressure to stop the continued aggression on Gaza instead of targeting and bombing the headquarters of an Iraqi national institution".

The powerful militant groups behind these attacks, including Kataib Hezbollah, are part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella group of paramilitary forces that falls under the command of the prime minister.

The groups attacking US forces say they are part of a loose alliance of Iran-backed militias known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. However, when the US strikes back, they mourn their losses as members of the PMF.

In a statement, the US military's Central Command said the strikes occurred at 12.15am on Wednesday.

They hit Kataib Hezbollah headquarters, storage and training sites for rockets, missiles and one-way attack drones, Centcom said on X.

Militia sources said two fighters were killed and two wounded.

A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah vowed to continue attacks against the US troops.

"We will continue targeting the enemies' strongholds in support of our people in Gaza until the US-backed barbaric killing machine stops and the siege if lifted," Jaafar Al Hussaini said on X.

Updated: January 24, 2024, 11:53 AM