US did not alert Iraq before strikes on Iran-backed militias

Iraqi government accuses US of 'deception and distortion of facts' after Washington claimed it had notified Baghdad of strikes

The aftermath of a US air strike in Al Qaim, Iraq. AP
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The US on Monday clarified that the military did not notify the Iraqi government ahead of time about air strikes on Iran-backed groups in the country last Friday, despite earlier claiming that it had.

“As for this specific response on Friday, there was not a pre-notification,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters at a briefing.

He added that Iraq had been informed immediately after the strikes occurred.

The update came after National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stated on Friday that the US had notified the Iraqi government ahead of the retaliatory military operation.

US Central Command conducted strikes against 85 targets in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for a drone strike that killed three US service members in Jordan.

“Iraq, like every country in the region, understood that there would be a response after the deaths of our soldiers,” Mr Patel said.

Following the strikes on Friday, Maj Gen Yahya Rasool, the Prime Minister's military spokesman, called the strikes a “violation of Iraq's sovereignty”.

US launches retaliatory strikes on Iran-backed targets in Iraq and Syria – video

US launches retaliatory strikes on Iran-backed targets in Iraq and Syria

US launches retaliatory strikes on Iran-backed targets in Iraq and Syria

Maj Gen Rasool added that they “undermine the Iraqi government efforts” to ease tension and warned of “grave consequences on the security and stability of Iraq and the region”.

When asked if the lack of warning had strained bilateral ties, Pentagon spokesman Maj Gen Pat Ryder called Iraq a “valued partner” and said that the US would continue to work closely with Baghdad.

“We have consistently communicated to the Iraqis and others that we reserve the right to defend our personnel from attacks by Iranian backed militants in Iraq,” he told reporters.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani is under intense political pressure to expel US and foreign forces, 10 years after they arrived in Iraq and Syria to help fight ISIS.

Iran-backed Shiite militias and political factions pushed the government to start talks last month talks with the US over ending the mission of the international coalition and replacing it with bilateral security agreements.

Complicating the US effort to tackle Iran-backed militias in Iraq is that many have close ties to or work directly with the government.

Iran-backed militias in Iraq hold funeral for militants killed in US strikes – video

Iran-backed militias in Iraq hold funeral for militants killed in US strikes

Iran-backed militias in Iraq hold funeral for militants killed in US strikes

Friday's strikes killed at least 16 people and wounded 25 more, including civilians, the Iraqi government said.

Maj Gen Ryder said an assessment into the casualties was ongoing.

“I think it is fair to conclude that there are likely were casualties associated with these strikes,” he said.

The January 28 attack on a remote US army base known as Tower 22 was the first time American service members have been killed in an attack in the region since October 7.

Iran-backed militias have launched more than 170 attacks on US installations in the Middle East, mostly in Iraq and Syria, since the Israel-Gaza war began.

US President Joe Biden had vowed to respond but cautioned that he did not seek war with Iran.

The US blamed the deadly attack on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias that includes Kataib Hezbollah.

On Saturday, Baghdad said that the US government had not alerted it to the strikes.

“The American side intentionally engaged in deception and distortion of facts, stating co-ordination with Iraqi authorities for the perpetration of this aggression – an unfounded claim crafted to mislead international public opinion and evade legal responsibility for this condemned act, in violation of international laws,” Iraqi government spokesman Basim Alawadi said in a statement posted on X.

The Biden administration, which has said the response to the attack in Jordan would be “multi-tiered”, is trying to respond forcefully enough to deter future attacks without being drawn into a war with Iran or a broader regional conflict.

Thomas Watkins contributed to this report from the Pentagon

Updated: February 05, 2024, 9:35 PM