Iraqi government and militia leaders condemn US strikes which killed one and injured dozens
The Iraqi government on Tuesday condemned US airstrikes on the headquarters of armed factions within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), saying that the attacks harm bilateral relations between Baghdad and Washington.
At least one person was killed and 20 wounded in a US strike that targeted a site belonging to the Iran-backed PMF (Hashed al-Shaabi) forces in the central city of Hilla, one of two locations targeted in Babylon province. Four others were wounded in another US strike in the southern province of Wassit, according to Iraqi officials.
The Media Office of Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani said in a statement that the US strikes were “hostile” acts that damage bilateral relations.
It also stressed that the Iraqi government had taken serious measures against Iraqi factions that attacked foreign diplomatic missions or military bases where military advisors from “friendly countries are present”, stressing that it is unacceptable for the factions to commit such attacks under any circumstances.
The US said that it launched the strikes in response to an attack that wounded three US soldiers. Pro-Iran factions in Iraq have targeted the US military presence in the country ever since Israel launched its brutal war on Gaza last October.
“It is a clear, unconstructive, and non-building hostile act that contradicts the declared desire of the American side to enhance relations with Iraq, hindering long-term common interests in establishing security and stability,” the statement read.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement on Monday that the strikes were carried out at President Biden's direction, and the US armed forces targeted three facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups in Iraq.
Austin said the strikes are in response to a series of attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed militias, namely an attack by Kataib Hezbollah on Erbil Air Base earlier in the day.
He said the attack on Harir Airbase located in Erbil, the capital city of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, caused three injuries to U.S. personnel, “leaving one service member in critical condition.”
He also added that the US “will not hesitate to take necessary action to defend the United States, our troops, and our interests. There is no higher priority. While we do not seek to escalate conflict in the region, we are committed and fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities.”
The President places no higher priority than the protection of American personnel serving in harm’s way.’ U.S. and Coalition forces are in Iraq as guests of the Iraqi government. Attacks against them are attacks against Iraq and these attacks by terrorist groups must stop.…— Ambassador Alina L. Romanowski (@USAmbIraq) December 26, 2023
Qais Al-Khazali, the secretary general of the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq pro-Iran militia said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that the US strikes were a danger to Iraq’s sovereignty and called on the Iraqi government to carry out a decision by the Iraqi parliament in 2018 to expel all foreign troops in the country.
Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Iran-backed Badr Organization and a leader in the PMF denounced the US strikes, asking the Iraqi government to "set a timeline for the departure of these foreign forces at the earliest opportunity".
“There is no solution or end to these attacks except by the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. The presence of foreign forces is no longer necessary in Iraq and they have become a factor of destruction for our country", Amiri said in a statement.
The Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah group made a defiant statement saying it would continue to fight US forces.
"The crimes of the American occupation against our people give the resistance a double momentum in terms of confrontation ," Kataeb Hezbollah spokesman Abu Ali Al-Askari said.