Conflict

Retaliatory Attacks by Regional Powers Threaten to Worsen Situation in Iraq

Iraq

The United States conducted a series of airstrikes in Iraq on Thursday evening, targeting Kata’ib Hezbollah facilities across the country, following attacks on an Iraqi base on Wednesday that killed two US servicemen.

The United States conducted a series of airstrikes against facilities belonging to Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia group, across Iraq on Thursday evening. The attacks targeted five weapons storage facilities used by the group.

The US Department of Defence released a statement arguing that the strikes were a direct and proportionate response to threats posed by pro-Iran groups, which had conducted prior attacks on Wednesday on Taji Base near Baghdad, which houses International Coalition personnel. Two service members from the United States and one 26-year old soldier from the United Kingdom were killed in the attack. The attack saw 18 rockets hit the base, although the perpetrators are still unknown.

Washington accused what it labelled as Shi’ite groups loyal to Iran of involvement in the attack, with the Department of Defense’s statement holding Kata’ib Hezbollah responsible for the attacks. However, whilst the group did release a statement blessing the attacks, they denied involvement.

Whilst motive behind Wednesday’s attack is yet to be made clear, it was likely triggered by the US announcement that it will be moving air defence systems into Iraq to further strengthen its position in the country. It also holds some symbolic importance, as the attack coincided with Qassem Soleimani’s 63rd birthday.

In a Pentagon statement, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper cautioned that the US was prepared to respond again if needed and reinforced that Washington will take any action necessary in order to protect forces in Iraq.

The airstrike signifies the third time in less than six months that the US military has targeted attacks at Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq. In December, US attacks killed more than two dozen militants after a US contractor was killed in an attack on an Iraqi base. January’s drone strike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah.