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US intends further strikes against Iran-backed groups

The United States intends to launch further strikes at Iran-backed groups in the Middle East, the White House national security adviser said, after hitting Tehran-aligned factions in Iraq, Syria and Yemen over the last two days.

The United States and Britain unleashed attacks against 36 Houthi targets in Yemen, a day after the US military hit Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for a deadly attack on US troops in Jordan.

“We intend to take additional strikes, and additional action, to continue to send a clear message that the United States will respond when our forces are attacked, when our people are killed,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

The strikes are the latest blows in a conflict that has spread into the Middle East since 7 October, when the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas stormed Israel from Gaza, igniting war.

The Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts to stem the fallout from the war also continued with top diplomat Antony Blinken departing for the region yesterday afternoon.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan declined to say whether the US would strike sites in Iran

Iran-backed groups declaring support for the Palestinians have entered the fray across the region:

Hezbollah has fired at Israeli targets at the Lebanese-Israeli border, Iraqi militias have fired on US forces in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthis have fired on shipping in the Red Sea and at Israel itself.

Iran has so far avoided any direct role in the conflict, even as it backs those groups. The Pentagon has said it does not want war with Iran and does not believe the Arab nation wants war either.

Mr Sullivan declined to be drawn on whether the United States might attack sites inside Iran, something the US military has been very careful to avoid.

Speaking to CBS ”Face the Nation”, he said the strikes were “the beginning, not the end, of our response, and there will be more steps, some seen, some perhaps unseen”.

“I would not describe it as some open-ended military campaign,” he said.

The strikes in Yemen hit buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems, launchers and other capabilities the Houthis have used to attack Red Sea shipping, the Pentagon said, adding it targeted 13 locations.

The Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said the strikes “will not pass without a response and consequences”.

Another Houthi spokesperson, Mohammed Abdulsalam, indicated the group would not be deterred, saying Yemen’s decision to support Gaza would not be affected by any attack.

The Houthis did not announce any casualties.

Houthi fighters participate in a rally of support for Palestinians after US strikes in Yemen

Secretary of State Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt,Qatar and Israel in the coming days on his fifth trip to the region since October, which will focus on advancing talks on the return of hostages taken from Israel by Hamas in exchange for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza.

He will also make a push on a US-brokered mega deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel to normalise ties, which hinges on bringing an end to other Gaza conflict and steps toward a future Palestinian state.

Iran seen avoiding direct confrontation

The Yemen strikes are running parallel to the unfolding US campaign of retaliation over the killing of three American soldiers in a drone strike by Iran-backed militias on an outpost in Jordan.

On Friday, the US carried out the first wave of that retaliation, striking in Iraq and Syria more than 85 targets linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and militias it backs, reportedly killing nearly 40.

View of destruction after the US strike on the HQ of Hashd al-Shaabi in Al-Qa’im city of Anbar, Iraq

Iran’s foreign ministry said the latest attacks on Yemen were “a flagrant violation of international law by the United States and Britain”, warning the continuation of such attacks was a “worrying threat to international peace and security”.

While the Houthis say their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians, the US and its allies characterise them as indiscriminate and a menace to global trade.

Major shipping lines have largely abandoned Red Sea shipping lanes for longer routes around Africa. This has increased costs, feeding worries about global inflation while denying Egypt crucial foreign revenue from use of the Suez Canal.

Hundreds of people attended a Baghdad funeral procession for 17 members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) killed in the US strikes. The PMF is a state security force containing several Iran-backed armed groups.

Hadi al-Ameri, a senior Iraqi politician close to Iran, said it was time to oust US forces, 2,500 of whom are in Iraq in admission, to help prevent a resurgence of Islamic State. “Their Presence is pure evil for the Iraqi people,” he said.

Iraq and the United States last month initiated talks about ending the US-led coalition’s presence in the country.

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