Iraq Criticizes US Strikes After Baghdad Attack Killed Iran-Backed Militant Group Commander

Iraq Thursday sharply criticized a U.S. drone strike that the U.S. military said killed a leader of an Iranian-backed militant group, with an Iraqi spokesman calling the attack “a blatant assassination” that showed “no regard for civilian lives or international laws.”

Yehia Rasool, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, said the U.S.-led coalition that has operated in Iraq to counter the Islamic State group “consistently deviates from the reasons and objectives for its presence on our territory.”

“The trajectory compels the Iraqi government more than ever to terminate the mission of this coalition, which has become a factor for instability and threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict,” Rasool said in a statement.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, said the strike on Tuesday killed a commander of the militant group Kataib Hezbollah who was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region.”

Two U.S. officials confirmed to VOA that the commander was operations officer Wisam Mohammad al-Saedi. Photos on social media allegedly showed his Iraqi identification card that was pulled from his body.

VOA had earlier reported the U.S. military was involved in an airstrike against a high-value target in the Middle East but had not identified al-Saedi by name.

Video shared on social media shows a vehicle engulfed in flames on a Baghdad highway.

The U.S. strike was in response to the almost 170 drone, rocket and missile attacks against U.S. forces in the Middle East since mid-October, one of which killed three U.S. service members and wounded dozens more in northern Jordan last week.

A wave of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on Friday pounded targets associated with Iranian-backed militias responsible for the attacks. The strikes targeted three locations in Iraq, as well as another four in Syria, and they destroyed more than 80 individual targets, ranging from command-and-control centers and intelligence hubs to missile and drone storage facilities, according to the latest U.S. assessments.

But while U.S. officials have defended the strikes as necessary following a drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers at a base in Jordan last month, Iraqi officials have voiced increased anger, summoning the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Baghdad to protest. They have charged that some of the U.S. strikes hit elements of Iraq’s own security forces.

The U.S. State Department said Monday that Iraq was not given any warning but added the U.S. strikes should not have come as a surprise.

Pentagon press secretary Major General Pat Ryder said Monday the U.S. had no plans for a long-term military campaign against the militias in Iraq and Syria, but he noted the U.S. response to the killing of its service members was “not complete.”

The U.S. has about 2,500 troops in Iraq tasked with advising and assisting Iraqi security forces as they pursue the remnants of the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS or Daesh.

And while talks between the U.S. and Iraq are under way to eventually reduce the U.S. military footprint and transition from the counter-IS mission to what officials describe as more traditional military-to-military relationship with Baghdad, the process has been complicated by the attacks.

The United States has also been carrying out strikes in response to attacks by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen who have threatened key Red Sea shipping lanes.

U.S. Central Command, which overseas U.S. forces in the region, said Thursday it conducted two separate strikes late Wednesday against Houthi cruise missiles that were prepared to launch.

A CENTCOM statement said the missiles “presented an imminent threat to U.S. Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.”

The Houthis have said their Red Sea attacks are in solidarity with the people of Gaza and have vowed to continue them.

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