Iraq’s government has condemned overnight US air strikes on Iraqi military positions that it said killed one serviceman and wounded 18 other people, calling them a “clear hostile act”.
The United States carried out retaliatory air strikes yesterday in Iraq after a one-way drone attack earlier in the day by Iran-aligned militants that left one US service member in critical condition and wounded two others.
The government condemned the US strikes as “an unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” while stressing that attacks by armed groups against military bases hosting US-led coalition advisers are hostile acts and violate Iraqi sovereignty, a government statement said.
Two Iraqi security sources said overnight US airstrikes targeted headquarters for Iraqi armed group Kataib Hezbollah in the Iraqi city of Hilla south of Baghdad.
One fighter from Kataib Hezbollah was killed in the strikes and 16 were wounded, said two security sources on condition of anonymity.
The United States has 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq on a mission it says aims to advise and assist local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of the so-called Islamic State, which in 2014 seized large swathes of both countries before being defeated.
At President Joe Biden’s direction, the US military carried out the strikes in Iraq, the US military said.
“These strikes are intended to hold accountable those elements directly responsible for attacks on coalition forces in Iraq and Syria and degrade their ability to continue attacks. We will always protect our forces,” said General Michael Erik Kurilla, head of US Central Command, in a statement.
The Pentagon did not disclose details about the identity of the service member who was critically wounded or offer more details on the injuries sustained in the attack. It also did not offer details on how this drone appeared to penetrate the base’s air defences.
“My prayers are with the brave Americans who were injured,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
The White House National Security Council said Mr Biden was briefed on the attack and ordered the Pentagon to prepare response options against those responsible.
“The President places no higher priority than the protection of American personnel serving in harm’s way. The United States will act at a time and in a manner of our choosing should these attacks continue,” NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.
The US military has already come under attack at least 100 times in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, usually with a mix of rockets and one-way attack drones.
Iran-aligned groups in Iraq and Syria oppose Israel’s campaign in Gaza and hold the United States partly responsible.
The US embassy compound in Baghdad also came under mortar fire earlier this month, the first time it had been attacked in more than a year, in a major escalation.
The latest unrest came less than a week after Mr Austin returned from a trip to the Middle East focused on containing efforts by Iran-aligned groups to broaden of the Israel-Hamas war.
That includes setting up a US-led maritime coalition to safeguard Red Sea commerce following a series of drone and missile attacks against commercial vessels by Houthi militants in Yemen.
The Pentagon said on Thursday that more than 20 countries have agreed to participate in the new US-led coalition, known as Operation Prosperity Guardian.