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BAGHDAD, Iraq – Overnight US strikes on Iraqi militant groups that are part of the country’s formal security forces showed “clear determination to harm security and stability in Iraq,” a spokesperson for Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said on Wednesday, January 24.
Iraq, a rare ally of both Tehran and Washington which hosts 2,500 US troops and has Iran-backed militias linked to its security forces, has witnessed escalating tit-for-tat attacks since the Israel-Hamas war erupted in October.
The Pentagon said the US had carried out strikes on three facilities linked to Iran-backed militias including Kataib Hezbollah after a weekend attack on an Iraqi air base that wounded US forces.
“This unacceptable act undermines years of cooperation, blatantly violates Iraq’s sovereignty, and contributes to an irresponsible escalation,” the spokesperson said, in some of the harshest criticism yet of the US by Iraq’s prime minister.
US troops in Iraq and Syria have been attacked about 150 times by Iran-aligned militants since the Israel-Gaza war started in October, creating pressure on President Joe Biden to respond militarily, despite political sensitivities in Baghdad.
The US has responded with several strikes, including one that killed a senior militia commander in Baghdad, in moves that have led Baghdad to call for an expedited, though negotiated, exit of US-led coalition forces.
Some of the Iran-backed militants groups that have been launching attacks at US forces are part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sanctioned security force that began as group of militias in 2014 to fight Islamic State.
While formally under the command of Iraq’s prime minister, many of the groups take decisions outside of the chain of command and have vowed to continue attacks on US forces till the Gaza war ends.
The PMF said one of their members had been killed and two injured in the overnight strikes, which targeted Jurf al-Sakhar some 50 km (30 miles) south of Baghdad and the town of al-Qaim on the Syrian border.
The US has 900 troops in Syria as well as the 2,500 in Iraq, advising and assisting local forces to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State, which in 2014 seized large parts of both countries before being defeated over several years. – Rappler.com