Cape Times

US strikes kill pro-Iran fighters


IRAQ yesterday condemned overnight US air strikes against Iran-backed armed groups on the Syrian-Iraqi border that killed at least seven fighters and sparked calls for revenge from Iraqi armed factions.

The second such raid on pro-Iran targets since US President Joe Biden took office, described by the Pentagon as “retaliator­y”, led to fears of a new escalation between Tehran and Washington and came despite faltering efforts to revive a key deal over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi condemned the attack as a “blatant and unacceptab­le violation of Iraqi sovereignt­y and Iraqi national security”. “Iraq reiterates its refusal to be an arena for settling scores,” Kadhemi added, urging all sides to avoid any further escalation.

The Hashed, an Iraqi paramilita­ry alliance that includes Iranian proxies and has become the main power broker in Baghdad, said the strikes killed four of its fighters in the Qaim region, some 13km from the border.

The fighters were stationed there to prevent jihadists from infiltrati­ng Iraq, the group said, denying that they had taken part in any attacks against US interests or personnel. “We reserve the legal right to respond to these attacks and hold the perpetrato­rs accountabl­e on Iraqi soil,” the Hashed said.

US defence spokespers­on John Kirby said that three military facilities used by Iran-backed militia had been hit overnight on Sunday – two in Syria and one in Iraq.

Kirby said the targets had been used by “Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq”.

The Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights said seven fighters had been killed in the strikes. At least six more fighters were wounded and the targets included an arms depot near Albu Kamal, a Syrian town which lies where the border crosses the Euphrates river, the Britain-based monitor said.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said one child had been killed in the raid but gave few details.

US interests in Iraq, where 2 500 US

troops are deployed as part of an internatio­nal coalition to fight the jihadist Islamic State group, have been targeted in more than 40 attacks this year.

The vast majority have been bombs against logistics convoys, but rocket fire and drones packed with explosive have also been used in the assaults some of which were claimed by proIran factions hoping to pressure Washington into withdrawin­g all its troops.

“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the president directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” Kirby said.

“Specifical­ly, the US strikes targeted operationa­l and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries,” he added. Kataeb Hezbollah and Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada, two Iraqi armed factions with close ties to Tehran, were among the “several Iranbacked militia groups” that had used the facilities, Kirby said.

Some of the militia groups that form the Hashed al-Shaabi have been deployed in Syria over the years to support regime forces and to further Iran’s interests in the country.

In February, US strikes on facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran-backed militia groups left more than 20 fighters dead, according to the Observator­y.

The latest US strikes come two days after the US and France warned Iran that time was running out to return to a nuclear deal, voicing fears that Tehran’s sensitive atomic activities could advance if talks drag on.

A return to the 2015 Iran accord has been a key Biden promise after the nuclear deal was trashed by his predecesso­r, Donald Trump.

The UN’s nuclear watchdog said on Friday it had received no reply from Tehran over the possible extension of a temporary agreement covering inspection­s at Iranian nuclear facilities, which expired last Thursday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that the strikes on pro-Iran fighters in Iraq and Syria should send a “strong” message of deterrence not to keep attacking US forces.

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