Tuesday, April 23, 2024

US air strike kills commander of Iran-backed militia in Baghdad -Dlight News

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The US military has killed a high-ranking commander of an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, saying an air strike on the group’s logistics headquarters in central Baghdad was done in “self defence” after the faction conducted attacks on American personnel.

Major General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said the target, Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, also known as Abu Taqwa, was “actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks against” the US military in the region. Saidi was the deputy head of operations in Baghdad of the Popular Mobilisation Units, a network of Iran-backed Shia militia groups.

Thursday’s strike comes amid escalating tensions in the Middle East tied to Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that is also supported by Iran.

Several Iranian-backed militias in the region, including Yemen-based Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hizbollah, have ramped up attacks on Israel and other US allies in the Middle East in recent weeks, leading the Pentagon to escalate its own warnings of imminent retaliatory operations.

The Popular Mobilisation Units confirmed the death of Saidi, who was also a commander in the Harakat al-Nujaba militia, which is close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The strike hit a building that was described by the PMU as a “logistical support headquarters” affiliated to the group on Palestine Street in the centre of the Iraqi capital.

The strike killed and injured several other fighters, Iraqi authorities added. Footage and images published by pro-militia channels on Telegram showed a destroyed vehicle engulfed in flames, which they said was the target of the strike. The Financial Times could not independently verify the authenticity of the social media posts.

Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani, called the attack “unjustified” and a “dangerous escalation and a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty”. Targeted strikes in central Baghdad have become increasingly rare.

The Islamic Resistance of Iraq, a newly created shadowy group of Iran-backed militias, has carried out more than 100 attacks on military bases housing US and other foreign troops in Iraq and Syria since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza strip.

The IRI has said the attacks are in retaliation for US President Joe Biden’s support of Israel in its war against the armed Palestinian group. Experts believe Harakat al-Nujaba is one of the IRI’s most influential factions. 

Last month, Washington carried out retaliatory air strikes in Iraq after a drone attack by Iran-aligned militants left one US service member in critical condition and wounded two others. It has also carried out recent attacks against Iran-aligned groups in Syria.

Thursday’s strike comes two days after a suspected drone attack killed Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas’s deputy leader, in Beirut. Lebanon and Hamas both blamed Israel for the strike. In the past Israel has conducted strikes on weapons depots and facilities linked to Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq.

Sudani recently said that Iraq’s government was “proceeding to end the presence of the international coalition forces”. While he became prime minister with the backing of Iran-aligned factions and militias, Sudani has also tried to maintain good relations with Washington.

There are more than 2,500 US troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria, who advise and assist local forces in preventing a resurgence in violence by Isis militants. The anti-terror coalition was established in 2014.

“We view this action as a dangerous escalation and assault on Iraq, diverging from the spirit and the text of the mandate and the mission for which the global coalition was established in Iraq,” said Yahia Rasool, Iraq’s military spokesman.

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