US says carried out Iraq strike, killed pro-Iran commander
An Iraqi security official said two people were killed and seven wounded in the drone strike, which the government dubbed a "blatant aggression".
But Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder said the strike was an act of self-defence against a commander who was actively planning attacks against US personnel.
"It is important to note that the strike was taken in self-defence, that no civilians were harmed and that no infrastructure or facilities were struck," Ryder told journalists in Washington.
The strike targeted a leader of Harakat al-Nujaba who was "actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel," according to Ryder, who said it also killed another of the group's members.
The attack and the toll, confirmed by a Hashed source who asked not to be named, came as tension mounted in the region amid Israel's war on Gaza raging in the enclave.
The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), also known as Hashd Al-Shaabi, is a state-sponsored umbrella organisation composed of some 40 militias that are predominantly Shia, with many having close ties to the Iranian regime and are now integrated into the Iraqi armed forces.
Baghdad has struggled to handle the group as it tries to maintain close ties with both the US and Iran.
Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the Hashed's factions, said that "the deputy commander of operations for Baghdad, Mushtaq Talib al-Saidi", had been "martyred in a US strike".
Videos shared on a Telegram channel linked to the Hashed showed columns of smoke rising above the area of the strike on Baghdad's Palestine Street, normally a bustling commercial road.
The site was cordoned off by Hashed forces, who blocked journalists' access to the site, an photographer, who works for French news agency AFP, said.
The strike came after a spate of attacks on US forces in Iraq and neighbouring Syria since the start of the Gaza war. Washington says there have been more than 100 since mid-October.
Many have been claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-linked armed groups that oppose US support for Israel in the Gaza war.
The United States has around 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria as part of the multinational coalition fighting the Islamic State group since 2014.
The US military has responded to recent attacks by launching air strikes targeting sites used by Iran and its proxy forces in Iraq and Syria, including Hashed sites.
Thursday's strike was denounced by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as "a dangerous escalation and assault", according to his office.
Just now at DoD press brief, @PentagonPresSec refuses to talk about US assassination strike in Iraq but implies it’s “necessary to protect our personnel”… but how tf is it protecting personnel to do something that will guarantee retaliation & escalation against US personnel? pic.twitter.com/I3hCwDbFza— Mike Prysner (@MikePrysner) January 4, 2024
"The Iraqi armed forces hold the global coalition forces responsible for this unwarranted attack," a spokesperson for Sudani said in a statement.
Pro-Iran parties dominate Iraq's parliament, and won the majority of council seats in most of the country's provinces following provincial council elections held in December.
The Baghdad government has condemned some of the attacks on US targets but has also criticised Washington for taking matters into their own hands in response.
The Pentagon spokesman insisted Iraq remains "an important and valued partner," and that "our forces are there at the invitation of the government of Iraq to help train and advise" as part of the anti-IS mission.
"As we have been doing all along, we will continue to consult closely with the Iraqi government about the safety and security of US forces," Ryder said.