Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi has condemned the overnight US air attack on Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq and Syria which a monitor said killed at least seven fighters.
In a statement on Sunday, the US military said it targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq in response to drone attacks against the US personnel and facilities in Iraq.
The attacks came at the direction of US President Joe Biden, the second time he has ordered retaliatory attacks against Iran-backed militia since taking office five months ago.
“We condemn the US air attack that targeted a site last night on the Iraqi-Syrian border, which represents a blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security,” said a statement from the Iraqi PM’s office.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said in a statement that the Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada military factions were among the “several Iran-backed militia groups” that had used the targeted facilities.
“The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation – but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” Kirby said, adding that the targets were selected because “these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq”.
The statement did not say whether anyone was killed or injured, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least seven fighters were killed and several others wounded.
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said one child had been killed and at least three other people were wounded.
Threat of retaliation
Two Iraqi militia officials told The Associated Press news agency in Baghdad that four militiamen were killed in the air attacks near the border with Syria.
Armed groups aligned with Iran in a statement named four members of the Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada faction they said were killed in the attack on the Syria-Iraq border. They pledged to retaliate.
“We will remain the shield defending our beloved nation, and we are fully ready … to respond and take revenge,” it said.
Since the start of the year, there have been more than 40 attacks against US interests in Iraq, where 2,500 American troops are deployed as part of an international coalition to fight the armed group ISIL (ISIS).
Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, also reacted to the attacks.
“The US still continues the wrong path in the region. What we see today is not only the sanctions but also following the wrong policies of the previous administration with actions they carry out in the region,” said Khatibzadeh.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from the Iraqi capital Baghdad, described the US attacks as “significant”.
“The PMF say that they will attack American military facilities with missiles. Politicians affiliated with the PMF have also been tweeting, saying the United States only understands the language of force,” he said.
“We also know these groups are blaming the United States for not withdrawing from Iraq and for not implementing the decision by the Iraqi House of Representatives,” he added, referring to a parliament resolution approved in January last year, which called for all foreign troops to leave the country in the wake of the US killing of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani.
Biden and the White House declined to comment on the attacks.
Lawrence Korb, a former US assistant secretary of defence, said the raids could “very definitely” be seen as Biden “serving notice” on Iran as negotiations continue to revive its nuclear deal with world powers.
“The first time he used military force was about a month after he was inaugurated,” Korb told Al Jazeera.
“I think it was no accident that he did it then to send that signal to Iran. The fact that he’s doing it now while they are about to undergo the seventh round of the talks on the JCPOA is him saying: ‘Just because we are there, it doesn’t mean we are going to ignore it [other issues]’.”