Blinken makes unannounced Iraq trip amid Israel-Gaza war spillover fears

Top US diplomat’s visit comes after Lebanon accuses Israel of killing four civilians in air raid.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a tour of the Middle East aimed at preventing escalation in the Israel-Hamas war [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made a surprise visit to Iraq amid growing fears the Israel-Hamas war could escalate into a broader regional conflict.

Blinken, who is on a multi-country tour of the Middle East, held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani on Sunday as Washington seeks Baghdad’s help in cracking down on attacks on US forces that it has blamed on Iran-backed groups.

Speaking to reporters after their meeting, Blinken said the talks with al-Sudani were “productive” and his Iraqi counterpart was working with his security forces to “take necessary action” to deal with the attacks.

“This is a matter of Iraqi sovereignty,” Blinken said. “No country wants to have militia groups engaged in violent activity.”

“We have a shared purpose and commitment in trying to make sure that these attacks don’t happen,” the top US diplomat added.

Al-Sudani, whose government has close ties with Iran but has publicly condemned attacks on US forces in his country, reiterated calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and pointed to “the urgency of containing the crisis and preventing its spread”, his office said in a statement.

The US Pentagon says that rocket and drone attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria – most of which have been claimed by a group calling itself the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” – have increased significantly since the outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Washington has stepped up its diplomacy in the Middle East as Arab countries and armed groups in the region grow increasingly angry over the mounting death toll from Israel’s war on the Palestinian armed group Hamas.

Blinken’s visit, following stops in Israel and Jordan, came after Lebanese officials said an Israeli air raid killed four civilians, including three children, in the latest escalation in fighting along the tense Lebanon-Israel border.

The Lebanon-based armed group Hezbollah on Sunday warned that “the enemy will pay the price” for the attacks.

Israel’s military and Hezbollah, which like Hamas is backed by Iran, have engaged in regular cross-border clashes since Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel, which Israeli officials say killed at least 1,430 people, mostly civilians.

On Friday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned that a broader regional conflict could not be ruled out and “all scenarios are open” as long as Israel continues its bombardment of Gaza, which officials in the Hamas-governed enclave say has killed at least 9,770 people.

Blinken on Sunday night arrived in Turkey where he is expected to hold talks with his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan, amid warnings by the Iran-backed group Kataib Hezbollah that the diplomat’s visit would be met with “an unprecedented escalation”.

Al-Sudani is on Monday expected to begin a regional tour to Iran and the Persian Gulf nations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies