Three senior members of Iran-backed militia have been killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad – the latest in a series of retaliatory strikes by Washington.
Reports said a US drone hit a car in the Iraqi capital on Wednesday and killed the members of the Kataib Hezbollah, a powerful militia blamed for a series of recent attacks on US troops in the region.
Among the three said to be killed was high-ranking commander Wissam Mohammed “Abu Bakr” al-Saadi, the commander in charge of Kataib Hezbollah’s operations in Syria.
The strike, on a main road in the Mashtal neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, was the latest by the US and other Western nations in the wake of Iran-backed groups being accused of attacking international shipping in the Red Sea and American troops in bases in Jordan.
Iraq issued a warning to the US in response to the airstrike, calling it a “new aggression by the United States” that would “undermine all understandings between the two countries.”
Last month, three US troops were killed and more than 40 were injured in a drone attack at Tower 22, a US base near the border with Syria.
The US has linked the militia to that drone attack, and said it was able to evade US air defences as it was likely flying very low.
“(US) forces conducted a unilateral strike in Iraq in response to the attacks on US service members, killing a Kataib Hezbollah commander responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces in the region,” said a statement from the US military.
It did not name the commander, though a series of other reports named that man as al-Saadi. Another of the three killed was identified as Arkan al-Elayawi, according to a report by the New York Times.
The strike came amid ongoing tensions in the region and after the US military launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for a drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan in late January.
Washington has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iran-backed militias, for the attack in Jordan and officials have said they suspect Kataib Hezbollah had a role.
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has regularly claimed strikes on bases housing US troops in Iraq and Syria against the backdrop of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, saying that they are in retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel in its war in Gaza that has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians.
Reports from Iraq said the vehicle struck on Wednesday was used by Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a state security agency composed of dozens of armed groups, many of them close to Iran. Kataib Hezbollah fighters and commanders are part of the PMF.
The statement from US Central Command (CENTOM) added: “There are no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties at this time.”
It said: ‘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.”
Kataib Hezbollah had said in a statement that it was suspending attacks on American troops to avoid “embarrassing the Iraqi government” after the strike in Jordan, but others have vowed to continue fighting.
In January, the US launched an airstrike in Baghdad against the leader of Harakat al Nujaba, a group that was also blamed for attacks against American troops.
The latest strikes on the Iran-backed militants came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a detailed plan by Hamas for a ceasefire in exchange for hostages.
The US has some 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in neighbouring Syria in a mission to combat the Islamic State terror group.