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Iraq Condemns US for Drone Assassination of Militia Group Commander

Iraq officials warned that the US’s repeated attacks are further inflaming regional tensions and risking civilian lives.

People watch as a vehicle that was hit by a drone strike, reportedly killing three people including a commander of the Iraqi militia group Kata’ib Hezbollah, is carried away in Baghdad, Iraq, on February 7, 2024.

A deadly U.S. drone strike in Baghdad late Wednesday drew swift criticism from Iraqi officials and foreign policy analysts, who warned that the Biden administration’s repeated attacks are further inflaming regional tensions and putting civilians at risk.

Yehia Rasool, a spokesperson for the Iraqi military, said in a statement early Thursday that the U.S. “conducted a blatant assassination through an airstrike in the heart of a residential neighborhood in the capital, Baghdad, showing no regard for civilian lives or international laws.”

“By this act, the American forces jeopardize civil peace, violate Iraqi sovereignty, and disregard the safety and lives of our citizens,” said Rasool. “Even more concerning is that the coalition consistently deviates from the reasons and objectives for its presence on our territory.”

Rasool said the latest U.S. strike will only intensify the push to remove American forces from Iraq more than two decades after the disastrous 2003 invasion.

“This 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,” said Rasool.

The U.S. Central Command said Wednesday that the drone strike killed a commander of the Iraqi militia group Kata’ib Hezbollah. CENTCOM accused the commander, later identified as Abu Baqir Al-Saadi, of “directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region.”

“There are no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties at this time,” CENTCOM said Wednesday. “The United States will continue to take necessary action to protect our people. We will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces’ safety.”

Wednesday’s strike, carried out at around 9:30 pm Baghdad time, was part of a broader U.S. response to a deadly attack on American forces stationed at a little-known base just inside Jordan’s border with Syria. At least three people, including Al-Saadi, were reportedly killed in Wednesday’s strike.

Kata’ib Hezbollah, which the U.S. describes as backed and funded by Iran, said last month that it would suspend attacks on American troops to avoid angering the Iraqi government. The U.S. Congress has not specifically authorized military action against Iran-backed militias, but that hasn’t stopped the Biden administration from launching dozens of deadly airstrikes against them in recent weeks.

The Associated Press reported that U.S. officials did not notify their Iraqi counterparts of Wednesday’s strike in advance, a decision that’s sure to worsen the two countries’ already strained relations.

“The precision blast hit a main thoroughfare in the Mashtal neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, attracting a crowd as emergency teams picked through the wreckage,” according to AP.

The latest U.S. airstrike in the Middle East came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a Hamas cease-fire proposal and vowed to continue the devastating assault on Gaza that has killed more than 27,800 people and heightened the chances of a full-blown regional war.

Sina Toossi, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, said following Wednesday’s strike that Kata’ib Hezbollah’s pledge to suspend attacks on American forces gave U.S. President Joe Biden “a chance to de-escalate regional tensions.”

“But it’s not clear what Biden’s endgame is other than scoring some short-term political points,” Toossi added. “This is likely to backfire and threaten Iraq’s fragile stability.”

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