The United States military said on Sunday it carried out “defensive strikes” in Iraq and Syria against the Kataib Hezbollah armed group, two days after a US civilian contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base.
Iraqi security and militia sources said at least 25 fighters were killed and at least 55 wounded following the air attacks in Iraq.
At least four Kataib Hezbollah commanders were among the dead, the sources said, adding that one of the raids had hit the Iran-backed group’s headquarters near the western al-Qaim district on the border with Syria.
“In response to repeated Kataib Hizbollah (KH) attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces, US forces have conducted precision defensive attacks against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria that will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
The targets – three in Iraq and two in Syria – included weapons-storage facilities and command locations used to plan and execute attacks, the statement added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said top officials had briefed President Donald Trump on the attacks.
“We will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy,” Pompeo told reporters after the briefing, which took place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper described the attacks as successful, and said the US could take “additional action”.
The US had accused the group of a rocket attack on Friday that killed a US civilian contractor and injured four US service members, as well as two members of the Iraqi Security Forces near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
“The question is what the reaction is going to be, particularly from Iran and the Iraqi government,” Kenneth Katzman, an expert on the region and author of Warriors of Islam: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, told Al Jazeera.
“Already the caretaker prime minister who has tried to be friendly to both sides (Iran and the US) has said it was an infringement of Iraqi sovereignty so the strikes could potentially cause problems in the US-Iraqi relationship.”
Earlier, the military spokesman for the country’s outgoing prime minister Abel Abdel Mahdi said the raids were “a violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.
Another powerful pro-Iran faction, Asaib Ahl al-Haq – whose leaders were recently hit with US sanctions – called for the Americans to withdraw from the country.
“The American military presence has become a burden for the Iraqi state and a source of threat against our forces,” it said in a statement.
“It is therefore imperative for all of us to do everything to expel them by all legitimate means.”