US targets Iranian-backed militia active in Iraq: State Department

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The United States on Wednesday blacklisted a senior member of Iranian-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, punishing it for its attacks targeting US forces, most recently for killing an American contractor in an Iraqi military base near the northern city of Kirkuk.

The US State Department said it has designated Ahmad al-Hamidawi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), Secretary General of Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), an Iran-backed terrorist group active in Iraq and Syria, which Washington designated as terrorist organization in 2009.

“The Kata’ib Hezbollah group continues to present a threat to US forces in Iraq,” Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, said at a news briefing. “We’re adding to the pressure that has existed on this group for a decade.”

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Washington has blamed Iran-backed paramilitary groups for increasingly regular rocketing and shelling of bases hosting US forces in Iraq and of the area around the US Embassy in Baghdad.

An attack last month hit the US Embassy compound itself, and a rocket attack on a military base in the north in December killed a US civilian contractor. This triggered a string of events resulting in with the United States killing the top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes in a drone strike in Baghdad last month.

Shortly after Soleimani's death, senior officials from Lebanese Hezbollah urgently met with Iraqi militia leaders with the aim of uniting them in the void left by Soleimani, reported Reuters.

Soleimani's replacement, Esmail Ghaani, vowed revenge for his predecessor's death and promised to keep up Iran's influence via proxies.

Iran is linked to proxy organizations in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.