After US fighter jets bombed five facilities controlled by the Kataib Hezbollah militia group in Iraq and Syria on Sunday in response to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base — which in turn killed at least 24 people and injured at least 50 — Iraqi militias are warning a “strong response” is coming.
And in another sign that nothing good can come of the bloody tit-for-tat which could escalate into major regional war, the US has managed to make many more enemies than allies with the Sunday airstrikes, starting with Iraqi President Barham Saleh, who slammed the attack as “unacceptable and considered as an aggressive action and violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”
One of Iraq’s most powerful Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) commanders, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi (also, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes), put the some 5,000 American troops in Iraq on notice, saying they are preparing a response.
He threatened, according to Reuters:
“The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq.”
Over the weekend and into Monday US forces, mostly based in the country’s north where they’ve been training counter-ISIS Iraqi units, have reportedly tightened security and are on a high level of alert.
This after a Friday night rocket attack of unknown origin against a US base in Kirkuk which killed a US contractor. The subsequent US bombing raids were based on Washington’s immediate assumption and charge that Kataib Hezbollah or another “Iran-linked” Iraqi militia was behind it.
Essentially the US administration has blamed Iran for the new “aggression” after earlier this month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Iran that any attacks by Tehran or proxies that harmed Americans or allies would be “answered with a decisive U.S. response”.
For its part, Iran has vehemently denied having anything to do with prior attacks on US bases while charging the US with conducting “terrorism” on sovereign Iraqi soil.
“We strongly condemn this aggression on Iraqi soil and say it’s an example of terrorism,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The U.S. has to respect the territorial integrity and independence of Iraq and to stop interfering in Iraqi internal affairs.” Iran also demanded the US end its ongoing “occupation” in the region.
The entirety of Iraq’s leadership seems to be of the same mind, and even rejected the US plan to strike when they were tipped off immediately before it happened, per NBC:
In a statement, [former PM] Abdul-Mahdi said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had called him about a half-hour before the U.S. strikes Sunday to tell him of U.S. intentions to hit the bases of the militia suspected of being behind Friday’s rocket attack. Abdul-Mahdi said he asked Esper to call off the U.S. plan.
One byproduct of the major US strikes on Sunday is sure to be that more and more of the Iraqi population will view the Americans, and not the Iranians, as the foreign occupiers.
This dramatic escalation by Washington is only likely to push more popular support toward the Shia PMF, and strengthen the movement in parliament to have US forces legally expelled, especially with the demise of the ISIS threat.