US strikes in Iraq, Syria target Iran-backed Shiite militia group

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The US military carried out air strikes in Iraq and Syria against the Kataib Hezbollah militia group in response to the killing of a US civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, US officials said on Sunday.

Iraqi security and militia sources said at least 25 militia fighters were killed and at least 55 wounded following three US air strikes in Iraq on Sunday.

At least four local Kataib Hezbollah commanders were among the dead, the sources said, adding that one of the strikes had targeted the militia group’s headquarters near the western Qaim district on the border with Syria.

The Pentagon said it had targeted three locations of the Iranian-backed Shiite militia group in Iraq and two in Syria. The locations included weapons storage facilities and command and control locations the group had used to plan and execute attacks on coalition forces, it said.

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the strikes were carried out by F-15 fighter jets.

Preliminary picture from one of the targeted bombing sites. (Supplied)
Preliminary picture from one of the targeted bombing sites. (Supplied)

US forces conducted “precision defensive strikes” against five sites of Kataib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, an Iran-backed Iraqi militia, US Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.

“In response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbollah attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces, US forces have conducted precision defensive strikes ... that will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces” Hoffman said in the statement.

The Defense Department gave no immediate details on how its retaliatory strikes on Sunday were conducted. It said the US hit three of the militia’s sites in Iraq and two in Syria, including weapon depots and the militia's command and control bases.

Hoffman said the US attacks would limit the militia’s ability to carry out future strikes against Americans and their Iraqi allies.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement that three US airstrikes on Sunday evening Iraq time hit the headquarters of the Hezbollah Brigades at the Iraq-Syria border.

Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah, a separate force from the Lebanese group Hezbollah, operate under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Many of them are supported by Iran.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iranian-backed forces for a series of attacks on bases in Iraq and warned Iran that any attacks by Tehran or proxies that harmed Americans or allies would be “answered with a decisive US response.”

US Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas state, responding to the news report about the American strikes, tweeted: “Today’s strikes against Iranian-backed groups in Iraq and Syria are a justified response to the killing of an American and the wounding of several American service members and Iraqis. Tehran must stop attacking Americans or else face even graver consequences.”

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