The Iraqi government has condemned air strikes by the United States military on its territory as “hostile acts” after the Pentagon said it hit sites used by pro-Iran forces to target US forces.
The US strikes killed one member of the Iraqi security forces and wounded 18 people, including civilians, the government in Baghdad said on Tuesday, calling them an “unacceptable attack on Iraqi sovereignty” that would “harm bilateral relations”.
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Launched early on Tuesday, the US air strikes targeted three sites used by Kataib Hezbollah, a Shia armed group, and its affiliates, said US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.
The strikes were a response to a Kataib Hezbollah attack the day before on Erbil airbase that wounded three US service members, one of them critically, according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Austin said the “necessary and proportionate” strikes were intended to “disrupt and degrade” the capabilities of the Iran-aligned groups responsible for attacks against US personnel.
Today, at @POTUS’ direction, U.S. military forces conducted necessary & proportionate strikes on 3 facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah & affiliated groups in Iraq. These precision strikes are a response to a series of attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq & Syria by…
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) December 26, 2023
“While we do not seek to escalate [the] conflict in the region, we are committed and fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities,” Austin said.
‘Defend our interests’
US forces have repeatedly targeted sites used by Iran and its proxy forces in Iraq and Syria in response to dozens of attacks on American and allied forces in the region since the October 7 outbreak of the Israeli-Palestinian war.
US officials on Tuesday said the US military would continue to retaliate if US forces were targeted.
“The United States will act at a time and in a manner of our choosing should these attacks continue,” said Watson.
Austin said: “Let me be clear – the president and I will not hesitate to take necessary action to defend the United States, our troops, and our interests. There is no higher priority.”
The US Central Command said early assessments of the US military’s latest strikes indicated they destroyed the targeted facilities and likely killed several Kataib Hezbollah fighters, without killing any civilians.
The strikes are the latest indication of how Israel’s war in Gaza is reverberating across the Middle East, where there is widespread outrage over the mounting Palestinian death toll.
Palestinian officials say that more than 20,674 people have been killed and 54,536 wounded in Israeli attacks since October 7, when the Palestinian armed group Hamas launched a surprise multipronged assault on southern Israel. The revised death toll from Hamas’s attack stands at 1,139.
US officials have reported at least 103 attacks against its troops in Iraq and Syria since mid-October.
Iran has not commented on the latest strikes but has previously denied directing proxy groups to attack US forces in the region.