While the United States has targeted militia sites in Iraq and Syria several times in recent months, an American operation in such a central location in the Iraqi capital is extremely rare. The Hezbollah al-Nujaba movement falls under the command of the Iraqi army, which responded quickly – and angrily – saying that agreements between Baghdad and Washington had been violated.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder called the strike a “necessary and proportionate measure” against an armed leader who is “actively engaged in planning and carrying out attacks against U.S. personnel.” Ryder said one of Abu al-Taqwa's “aides” was also killed, although he did not identify him. The general indicated that no civilians were injured in the raid No infrastructure was damaged, a claim that The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify.
Thursday's violence highlighted the tension that has gripped much of the Middle East since early October, when fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas. In recent days, events in Lebanon and the Red Sea have exacerbated fears that the fighting in Gaza will spill beyond the borders of the Palestinian enclave and drag the United States into a much larger conflict with groups armed by Iran.
Ryder refused to say whether the United States had notified the Iraqi government before the strike. In response to a question about whether Washington had violated any agreement with Baghdad, he said that the Pentagon reserves the right to self-defense anywhere where American forces are threatened.
Photos allegedly taken at the scene of the airstrike and published by Sabreen News, a militia-run outlet, show weapons fragments consistent with a US-made Joint Air-to-Ground Missile, or JAGM, a new missile set to replace the old one. Relics are like hellfire. Mail could not To independently verify the authenticity of the images.
When nearby residents learned that the explosion was caused by American forces, some expressed fears of further violence.
“This is an indication that peace is not permanent,” said Sarah Jamal, 27, who lives a few blocks from the site of the attack. It started in Syria, then Lebanon, then Iran, and now here. “We were dragged into this, and we have no say.”
As black smoke rose from residential alleys where blood and body parts were scattered, some people cried. Others promised revenge on the United States. “No American soldiers will remain in Iraq!” A man shouted and fired his gun into the air.
About 2,500 US troops are stationed in the country to prevent the resurgence of the ISIS terrorist network, which on Thursday claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Iran the day before. Another 900 American soldiers are deployed in several settlement sites in Syria, assigned the same mission.
The Biden administration says it is working to prevent the war in Gaza, which began when Hamas militants killed 1,200 people in attacks across Israeli border communities, from spreading to other parts of the Middle East. But in Iraq and Syria, Washington's support for Israeli actions — where the Palestinian death toll has surpassed 22,000, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health — has provided a new incentive for local militias to try to oust US-led coalition forces.
US officials have recorded about 120 attacks since October 17, most of which were carried out with drones, missiles, or both. Late last month, after a militia attack in northern Iraq left a US service member in critical condition, the Pentagon announced. They launched retaliatory strikes and said they likely killed a number of militants. Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, who last year supported the need for the presence of American forces in Iraq to prevent the return of ISIS, said that American retaliation in that case led to the death of an Iraqi soldier and the wounding of 18 others, including civilians.
Thursday's attack is likely to increase pressure on the Iraqi government to speed up the end of the coalition's presence, two and a half years after their combat mission there officially ended. Iraqi army spokesman Yahya Rasul Abdullah described the strike as “no different from terrorist acts” and said that the army holds the US-led coalition responsible for the attack on a group under its command.
Abdullah said in a statement, “We consider this targeting a dangerous escalation and attack on Iraq, far from the spirit and letter of the mandate and work for which the international coalition is present in Iraq.”
The issue of the continued presence of US forces was under discussion as part of a joint dialogue between Iraqi and American officials. Al-Sudani had indicated in recent days that it may be time to end the presence of American and allied forces in Iraq, pointing to the increasing capabilities of the Iraqi forces.
While Sudan's government prefers an arrangement that puts the two countries on equal footing, rather than one that gives the appearance of continuing to host the army that invaded the country two decades ago, Washington has been wary of a complete withdrawal from one of its most important forces. High-profile theaters at a time of rising regional tensions.
“He set this up [Iraqi] The government is in a very difficult position. The effect is that it hardens public opinion against the remaining presence of American forces, said Sajjad Jiyad, a fellow at the Century Foundation.
Sajjad said Thursday's strike may have been intended to signal that there would be a cost to any future attacks on US forces. But he added that this strategy entails “a high potential for escalation, and a high potential for miscalculation.”
The strike came nearly four years to the day that President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Iran's most influential military strategist, Major General Qasem Soleimani, as he left Baghdad airport with his Iraqi counterpart, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.. It was the decision that brought Iran and the United States to the brink of war on Iraqi soil, with Tehran launching ballistic missiles against American forces and a glowering Iraqi parliament voting to expel America.
Some Iraqi officials indicated Thursday that it was time to finish the job.
Qais Khazali, who heads the Iran-linked Asaib al-Haq militia, said: “We urge the Iraqi government to take decisive steps to end the presence of the so-called international coalition in Iraq.” He said that this would include “cutting off the pretexts that the Americans use to prolong their stay on our land and in our skies.”
The conflict in Gaza sparked an escalation on front lines across the Middle East, as Iran-linked groups opposed to the US presence and Israeli policy launched their own retaliatory attacks, and in Lebanon, a suspected Israeli airstrike killed a high-ranking Hamas leader, Saleh. Al-Arouri on Tuesday. In a speech seen across the region, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese armed group and political party Hezbollah, vowed “retaliation and punishment.”
In Israel, US envoy Amos Hochstein met with Israeli officials as part of ongoing efforts to broker an agreement that could avoid a broader conflict across the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Deepening the quagmire, Houthi militants blew up an unmanned surface ship one-way in a shipping lane off the coast of Yemen on Thursday, despite what the White House described a day earlier as a “very serious warning” about the need to desist, a US admiral said.
Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces in the Middle East, told reporters at a news conference that the militants' use of an unmanned surface ship was “troubling” and a “new capability.” Cooper said the ship set out from Yemen and “had a clear intent to cause harm.”
A coalition of more than 20 countries has joined the United States under Operation Prosperity Sentinel in an effort to secure shipping routes in the Red Sea, officials said. No commercial ships have been bombed since the start of the operation, although some have come close. Since December 18, 11 drones, two cruise missiles, and six anti-ship ballistic missiles have been shot down by US forces. Three speedboats were sunk On December 31, after they opened fire on American helicopters.
US sailors have also shot down 61 missiles or drones launched from Yemen since October, and there are now far more warships and reconnaissance flights over the southern Red Sea than there have been in years, Cooper said.
On Tuesday, Cooper visited the USS Carney, which has responded to several Houthi attacks in recent weeks and is a recipient of the US Sailors' Combat Award. The military award indicates they were in direct combat, though administration officials said it was not clear whether the U.S. ships were directly targeted or simply nearby when the attacks were launched.
Cooper said that US military personnel took “the appropriate approach to protect themselves and shoot down these missiles.”
“Communication is easy, as was the fact that the Combat Action Ribbon was awarded to the Sailors who participated in this,” he said.
Lamott and Horton reported from Washington.