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Iraq slams US after deadly strikes on pro-Iran forces

US air strikes targeting pro-Iranian forces in Iraq claimed at least one life and drew an angry response from Baghdad Tuesday amid high regional tensions over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Iraq condemned as “a clear hostile act” the overnight US strikes, saying they had killed one member of the security forces and wounded 18 other people, including civilians. Washington has repeatedly targeted sites used by Iran and its proxy forces in Iraq and Syria in response to more than 100 attacks on American and allied forces since the October 7 outbreak of the Gaza war. Yet another rocket barrage was fired later on Tuesday morning at US and allied forces in Syria, at an American patrol base in Al-Shaddadi, but without causing casualties or damage, said a US military official. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier announced the overnight strikes, saying that “US military forces conducted necessary and proportionate strikes on three facilities used by Kataeb Hezbollah and affiliated groups in Iraq”. Austin said “these precision strikes are a response to a series of attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias”. The attacks had included a drone strike Monday by Kataeb Hezbollah and affiliated groups on Arbil Air Base, Austin said. It wounded three US military personnel, one critically, said US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson. US President Joe Biden had directed the US strikes in a call with Austin and other national security officials, a statement said. Biden “places no higher priority than the protection of American personnel serving in harm’s way,” it added. “The United States will act at a time and in a manner of our choosing should these attacks continue.” Washington considers the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, a terrorist organisation. The group forms part of the Hashed al-Shaabi coalition of former paramilitary forces integrated into Iraq’s regular armed forces. – ‘No, no to America’ – The latest drone attack Monday against American forces was claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose formation of armed groups affiliated with the Hashed al-Shaabi. A funeral was held for the dead fighter, attended by dozens of people who shouted “No, no to America”, an AFP photographer said. Many in the crowd carried Hashed flags and photos of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani who was killed in a US strike in Baghdad in January 2020. A US military tally has counted 105 attacks against its troops in Iraq and Syria since October 17, most claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which opposes US support for Israel in its war against Hamas. The United States — which led the 2003 invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein — now has about 2,500 soldiers deployed in Iraq and around 900 in Syria as part of efforts to prevent a resurgence of the jihadist Islamic State group. Baghdad strongly condemned the latest US military action. “It runs counter to the pursuit of enduring mutual interests in establishing security and stability, and it opposes the declared intention of the American side to enhance relations with Iraq,” it said in a statement. Questioned by AFP, an Iraq interior ministry official said one strike had targeted a Hashed site in Hilla, capital of Babylon province. One person was killed and 20 wounded, the official said, giving a higher injured toll than the government. Four others were wounded in a second strike in Wassit province, the official said, a casualty toll confirmed by security sources in both Babylon and Wassit provinces. One Hashed faction leader, Hadi al-Amiri, denounced the US strikes, in a message on his Telegram channel, demanding that the Iraqi government “set a timeline for the departure of these foreign forces at the earliest opportunity”. He charged that their presence had “become a factor of destruction for our country and a threat to our children”.

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