Iran condemns US strikes against Iraqi proxy group as ‘terrorism’

    FM Katz lauds attacks, calling them a ‘turning point in the regional response to Iran & its proxies’; Kataeb Hezbollah vows revenge

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    Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Iran-backed Hezbollah brigades march during a military parade in Baghdad on May 31, 2019. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)
    (FILES) In this file photo taken on May 31, 2019 Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Iran-backed armed group, Hezbollah brigades, march during a military parade marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Day in Baghdad,. - The US bombed the headquarters of the group in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said today, after a series of attacks in Iraq against American interests. It came after a barrage of 30 or more rockets was fired on December 27 at the K1 Iraqi military base in Kirkuk, an oil-rich region north of Baghdad, killing a US civilian contractor and wounding four US service members as well as Iraqi security forces, according to the Pentagon. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

    Tehran “strongly condemned” the United States on Monday for engaging in what it described as a clear example of terrorism, following a series of airstrikes against an Iranian proxy group that had carried out an attack on US forces in Iraq.

    It was the first known US attack on an Iranian proxy in Iraq since 2011.

    “With these attacks, the United States has shown its strong support for terrorism, disregarding the independence and sovereignty of countries, and must accept responsibility for the consequences of this illegal act,” state news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying.

    The US carried out airstrikes against Kataeb Hezbollah (Hezbollah Battalion) in Iraq and Syria on Sunday, killing 25 fighters, two days after a barrage of 30 or more rockets was fired at the K1 Iraqi military base in Kirkuk, an oil-rich region north of Baghdad, killing a US civilian contractor and wounding four US service members as well as Iraqi security forces.

    The US on Monday released what it said was video footage of the attacks.

    Israel praised the US strikes, with Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweeting that they were a “turning point in the regional response to Iran & its proxies” and asserting that “if Iran fails to understand the power of the US they will be making a big mistake.”

    A Pentagon spokesman said in a statement on Sunday, “In response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) attacks on Iraqi bases that host… coalition forces, US forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria.”

    Foreign Minister Israel Katz at a Likud election campaign stop in Jerusalem, September 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

    The strikes against three locations in Iraq and two in Syria “will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks” against coalition forces, the statement added.

    “KH has a strong linkage with Iran’s Quds Force and has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran that it has used to attack” coalition forces, the Pentagon said, referring to the external arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

    Kataeb Hezbollah is led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of Iraq’s most powerful men. In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, designated a foreign terrorist organization by President Donald Trump earlier this year.

    On Monday, Kataeb Hezbollah said that the death toll from the US strikes in Iraq and Syria against its fighters had risen to 25, vowing to exact revenge for the “aggression of evil American ravens.”

    “Our battle with America and its mercenaries is now open to all possibilities,” it said in a statement. “We have no alternative today other than confrontation and there is nothing that will prevent us from responding to this crime.”

    Lebanon’s Hezbollah also blasted the “brutal American aggression,” saying those who took the decision to carry out the attack “will soon discover how stupid this criminal decision was.”

    Iraqi army units are deployed during military operations of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Brigade in Anbar, Iraq on December 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

    While the two groups share a name they are not connected, although both are backed by Tehran.

    Speaking in Florida on Sunday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chiefs chairman General Mark Milley had discussed “other options that are available” to respond to Iran with US President Donald Trump.

    “We will take additional actions as necessary to ensure that we act in our own self-defense and we deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran,” he declared.

    Pompeo said the “decisive response” made clear that the US ”will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.”

    The military spokesman for Iraq’s outgoing prime minister Abel Abdel Mahdi decried “a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

    US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (left) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley (right) listen as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a statement on Iraq and Syria, December 29, 2019. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

    Another powerful pro-Iran faction, Assaib Ahl al-Haq — whose leaders were recently hit with US sanctions — called for Americans to withdraw from Iraq.

    “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.”

    The US maintains some 5,000 troops in Iraq. They are there based on an invitation by the Iraqi government to assist and train in the fight against the Islamic State group.

    The militia strike and US counterstrike come as months of political turmoil roil Iraq. About 500 people have died in anti-government protests in recent months, most of them demonstrators killed by Iraqi security forces.