Iraqi politicians line up to condemn U.S. strikes
BAGHDAD, January 24 – Iraq accused the United States of contributing to a “reckless escalation” of violence in the region after American airstrikes targeted what they say are 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 U.S. forces had carried out “necessary and proportionate strikes” against “three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Kataib 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 U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias,” he said, referring to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.
U.S.-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 groups that oppose U.S. support for Israel in the Gaza conflict.
U.S. 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.
According to Iraqi sources, today’s strikes targeted the Hezbollah Brigades, a group affiliated with the Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF), an alliance of former paramilitary groups – widely perceived as close to Iran – now integrated into Iraq’s regular armed forces.
They hit sites in the Jurf al-Sakhar area, south of Baghdad, as well as in the Al-Qa’im area on the border with Syria.
One person was killed and others were wounded in the bombardments of the Al-Qa’im sector, the PMF said in a statement. Initially, an interior ministry official and a source in the PMF reported two dead and two wounded in that attack.
“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 Mohammed 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 Yahya Rasool, the Iraqi leader’s spokesman for military affairs.
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 U.S. 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,” Al-Araji said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, referring to the PMF.
Iraq’s Parliament condemned United States airstrikes on Anbar and Babil on Wednesday, and affirmed its support for the government’s decision to file an official complaint with the United States Security Council regarding what it called a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry also pledged to file a complaint against Iran for its attack on Erbil last week but there is no public sign that it has been submitted as of today. The Foreign Minister is Fuad Hussein of Erbil’s ruling party, the KDP.
“We reiterate our call to the government to expedite implementation of the parliamentary decision to completely withdraw foreign forces from the country. Their presence now threatens the security and stability of Iraq and the safety of its people. We consider any delay in its enforcement a clear violation of legislation and popular will,” continued the statement from the legislature’s speakership.
Though the speaker position is traditionally held by a Sunni, the lack of cross-bench agreement on a nominee to replace the ousted Mohamed Al-Halbousi means the seat is presently vacant. Today’s statement was presumably drafted by the First Deputy Speaker Mohsen Mandalawi, a Shia politician more aligned with those factions seeking to eject U.S. forces from Iraq.
After previous U.S. strikes, the Iraqi prime minister has called for the U.S.-led coalition to leave, saying the deployment must end. The strike today will see further pressure heaped on Al-Sudani by pro-Iran factions in the Iraqi political scene.
There are roughly 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq and some 900 in neighbouring Syria.
The U.S. military said the latest strikes targeted Hezbollah Brigades “headquarters, storage and training locations for rocket, missile and one-way attack UAV (drone) capabilities”.
Late on Tuesday, several drones targeted an airbase in Iraq hosting U.S. troops, causing injuries and damage, a U.S. military official said.
“Multiple attack drones were launched” at the Ain Al-Asad base in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, a U.S. 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.
(Reporting by 964media and AFP)