US drone strike kills Iran-backed militia leader in Baghdad
In Baghdad, a US drone strike claimed the life of a senior commander from an Iran-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, along with two of his guards.
The strike targeted their vehicle in the eastern part of the Iraqi capital, resulting in their deaths. According to the Pentagon, the commander was responsible for orchestrating attacks against American forces in the region.
The US has connected the militia to a recent drone attack in Jordan, which resulted in the deaths of three US troops.
Following the Jordan attack, Kataib Hezbollah announced a suspension of assaults on American troops to avoid causing embarrassment to the Iraqi government.
The drone strike in Baghdad occurred in the Mashtal neighborhood on Wednesday night, causing loud explosions. The targeted vehicle, navigating a busy street, was obliterated, leaving behind a fiery wreck. Among the deceased is Abu Baqir al-Saadi, identified as a senior commander within Kataib Hezbollah.
US Central Command (Centcom) disclosed that the attack occurred at 21:30 local time and eliminated the “commander directly involved in planning and executing attacks against US forces in the region.” Centcom asserted that there were no signs of collateral damage or civilian casualties.
Upon the arrival of a BBC team at the scene, protesters amassed, denouncing the United States as the “biggest devil.” The area witnessed a significant police presence, including Swat teams from Iraq’s interior ministry.
Despite attempts by the BBC team to approach the burnt-out vehicle, onlookers adamantly refused access, expressing their discontent with the presence of journalists.
“You are foreigners,” one man shouted, adding “and foreigners are to blame for this”.
There were reports of crowds heading to the heavily fortified US embassy to protest.
The raid comes days after the US launched 85 strikes in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the fatal 28 January drone attack on US troops.
President Joe Biden described last Friday’s wave of attacks as just the beginning of the US response.
The drone raid in the Iraqi capital will be seen as a major escalation in the US response. Previous strikes have only targeted the Iraq-Syria border area.
But it was perhaps inevitable that the American strategy would include targeting not only infrastructure used by the groups, but also their senior leaders.
Shortly after Wednesday’s attack, militias in the country called for retaliation against the US.
American forces have been hit with near-daily rocket and drone strikes since the Israel Gaza war began on 7 October.
On 4 January, the US launched an airstrike in Baghdad against the leader of Harakat al Nujaba, a group also blamed for attacks against American troops.
The US has some 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in neighbouring Syria in a mission to combat the Islamic State terror group.