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The Iraqi government on Monday condemned US air strikes on Iran-backed militias near the Iraqi-Syrian border, and one of the paramilitary groups targeted in the attacks promised an “open war” against American interests in Iraq.
President Biden approved the attacks against facilities that the Pentagon claims were used in attacks against US forces in Iraq. The Pentagon said two of the targets were just across the border with Syria and the third in Iraq.
In a statement, the Iraqi government condemned the strikes as “a blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security”. The statement made by Major General Yahya Rasool, military spokesman for Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, called for the avoidance of escalation and said Iraq does not want to be turned into an “arena for reckoning” – an indication of the US-Iranian conflict Deputies in Iraq.
The American attacks were the latest escalation in tensions over recent revelations that Iran-backed militias in Iraq had increasingly used small, explosive-laden drones in nighttime attacks on Iraqi bases, including those used by the CIA and US special forces were. according to American officials.
The attacks are expected to increase pressure on Mr. al-Kadhimi to evict remaining US forces from Iraq. These forces are mainly deployed to help Iraq fight the remnants of Islamic State. While Iraqi military leaders have stated that they welcome continued aid from the US-led coalition, Mr Kadhimi is being hard pressed by Iranian-backed political parties to expel them.
One of the groups hit by the American air strikes, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, said four of their fighters stationed along the border were killed in the strikes.
“From now on we will wage an open war with the American occupation, whose first action targets the enemy planes in the skies of beloved Iraq,” the group said in a statement.
Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada and Kata’ib Hezbollah, the other militia group targeted, are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces that formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State in Iraq. The forces were later integrated into the Iraqi government’s security forces.
But many of the Iran-backed groups that are part of the People’s Mobilization Forces are only nominally under Baghdad’s control.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the attacks by F-15 and F-16 fighters should limit the risk of escalation while sending a deterrent message. He described it as self-defense and limited range.
The People’s Mobilization Command said the attacks on two of their brigades had been carried out about 10 miles from the border with Syria in the Iraqi city of Qaim in the western Anbar province. The victims were stationed at the border to prevent Islamic State fighters from entering Syria.
The Popular Mobilization Forces dismissed the Pentagon’s claim that weapons caches were targeted, saying the airstrikes targeted its fighters instead.
An umbrella organization of the Iranian-backed armed groups in Iraq, the Iraqi Resistance Coordination, vowed revenge and said it would continue to target US forces.
“We will avenge the blood of our righteous martyrs on the perpetrators of this heinous crime and, with God’s help, let the enemy taste the bitterness of vengeance,” the group said in a statement.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the attacks would disrupt the region’s security by the US.
The air strikes were the second in the same area to have been approved by Mr Biden since he came to power and the first since Iran’s elections earlier this month, in which hardliner Ebrahim Raisi became president.
Although, according to Islamic tradition, the bodies are usually buried on the same day, the popular mobilization forces said they would hold a public ceremony in Baghdad on Tuesday morning to transport the remains of those killed in the air strike and condemn the attack.