The United States carried out a drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq early Thursday morning, targeting a base belonging to an Iran-backed militia group and killing a senior leader, according to Iraqi and US officials.
Strike Targets Militia Base, Leader
The strike hit a two-story building inside the headquarters of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia in Baghdad’s Green Zone, according to an Iraqi military statement.
Three Iranian-backed Iraqi militia fighters were killed, including a PMF brigade leader named Abu Taqwa, according to Iraqi security sources cited by Reuters. Abu Taqwa was a senior figure in the PMF-affiliated Kataib Hezbollah militia.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the US carried out the attack, targeting Abu Taqwa for his involvement in recent attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq.
“The strike targeted an Iranian-backed militia leader who had been directing attacks on US forces in Iraq,” one official stated.
Iraq Condemns “Act of Aggression”
Iraqi authorities were quick to condemn the attack as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. The Iraqi military released a statement accusing the US-led international coalition of what it called an “act of aggression” with the strike.
“We stress that the American occupation forces and the international coalition forces bear full responsibility for this flagrant violation of sovereignty and national security,” the statement said.
The strike threatens to escalate already heightened tensions between the US and Iran-backed groups inside Iraq.
Iran Proxy Groups Vow Revenge
Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq also reacted angrily, with some vowing revenge for the deadly strike.
“The response to the crime of assassinating the martyr commander Abu Taqwa will be crushing,” the Iran-backed Nujaba Movement stated on their website.
Nujaba and other Iranian proxy groups have carried out dozens of attacks against US forces in Iraq over the past two years. Their threats raise the risk of a dangerous escalation and tit-for-tat conflict between the US and these militia factions.
Strike Comes Amid Rising Regional Tensions
The Baghdad strike comes against a backdrop of rising tensions between the US and Iran across the Middle East.
Over the past six months, the US and Israel have carried out strikes targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as proxy group weapons depots in Syria. Meanwhile, Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Yemen have stepped up missile and drone attacks.
Just last week, the US staged joint naval drills with regional partners Saudi Arabia and the UAE, exercises Iran called “provocative.”
|Timeline of Recent US-Iran Flashpoints
|Oct 2023: Iran-backed Houthis launch missiles & drones at Saudi oil facilities
|Nov 2023: US & Israel allegedly strike Iranian nuclear development sites
|Dec 2023: PMF militias launch dozens of rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq
|Jan 2024: US & allies hold naval drills in Gulf waters near Iran
|Jan 4, 2024: US strikes PMF militia base in Baghdad
Some analysts warn that tit-for-tat strikes raise the risk of miscalculation and uncontrolled escalation that could spark a wider regional war.
“This strike pours gasoline on a Middle East that’s already on fire,” warned analyst Trita Parsi.
What Comes Next?
In the wake of the strike, tensions have soared to critical levels. The big question now is how will Iran and its proxy groups respond.
Based on their initial reactions and past behavior, the militias will likely carry out retaliatory strikes on US or allied forces in the region. The militias have an array of missiles and drones and a long history of employing asymmetric warfare against conventionally superior foes.
Meanwhile, Iran has to carefully calibrate its response. Too little, and it appears weak. Too much, and it risks prompting devastating US retaliation.
For its part, the US has sent additional forces to the region to deter attacks. But some level of violence seems inevitable in the current climate.
Ultimately, the strike makes a dangerous situation even worse. The risk of miscalculation and uncontrolled escalation remains high in the weeks and months ahead. Both sides will have to exercise discipline and restraint to avoid plunging the region into a major conflict.
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