A US drone strike in Baghdad has killed a senior leader of an Iran-backed militia, raising tensions between the US and Iran-aligned groups in Iraq.
Strike Targets Militia Convoy
The drone strike targeted a two-vehicle convoy carrying members of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia group supported by Iran, near the militia’s headquarters near the Baghdad airport. At least 4 militia members were killed, including a senior leader named Abu Tawqa.
“I can confirm a precision US strike in Baghdad has killed Abu Tawqa, a senior leader of Iran-backed militia groups,” said a US official speaking anonymously due to not being authorized to comment.
Iraqi police and militia sources confirmed at least 4 dead and 3 wounded from the strike. The deaths mark a significant escalation in US-Iran tensions playing out on Iraqi soil.
Militia Vows Revenge
Kataib Hezbollah issued a statement confirming the death of Abu Tawqa, warning of retaliation to come.
“The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq,” the statement said.
Other Iran-backed groups also condemned the attack, with the umbrella militia organization known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) accusing the US of targeting Iraqi sovereignty.
|The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces
|Popular Mobilization Forces
|Accusing the US of targeting Iraqi sovereignty
Experts warned the attack could lead pro-Iran groups to restart attacks against US targets that have waned in recent years.
Context of Escalating Tensions
The strike comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran-backed militias in recent months. Iran has supplied Iraqi Shiite militias with drones and missiles used to attack Saudi Arabia and the Gulf state of United Arab Emirates.
Last August, the US carried out strikes on facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah along the Iraq-Syria border in response to drone attacks targeting US forces in Erbil, Iraq.
And in late December, the US Embassy in Baghdad was placed on high alert of an Iran-backed militia rocket attack, though no rockets were fired.
The airstrike also comes just days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced concerns over Iran’s use of Iraq as a base to threaten Israel during a visit to the UAE.
The drone strike prompted condemnation from the Iraqi government, which accused the US of violating Iraqi sovereignty.
“We condemn the US air attack that targeted a site last night on the Iraqi-Syrian border, which represents a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” said a statement from Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani called the attack “terrorism” and warned of consequences. And militia groups from Lebanon to Yemen issued statements condemning the US strike.
Russia, which maintains ties with Iran’s militia proxies in the region, accused the US of “destabilizing” the Middle East. While the UAE and Saudi Arabia did not issue official reactions, commentators in Gulf Arab states voiced support for the US strike.
Analysts say the risk of retaliatory attacks against US forces in Iraq and the region has now increased. The attack also complicates al-Sudani’s efforts to constrain Iran-backed groups and pull Iraq from proxy conflicts.
“The US strike puts al-Sudani in a very difficult position with Iraq’s Shiite political forces that are close to Iran,” said Hamdi Malik, an Iraq specialist at the Washington Institute.
With militia vows of retaliation, US troops and facilities in Iraq and Syria remain on high alert for potential attacks. But the Biden administration signaled it will act to deter Iranian proxies.
“The president gave the direction that we would respond at time and place of our choosing,” said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. “And last night’s strikes were a clear demonstration of that.”
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