In the early morning air raid, the attacks unfolded against a backdrop of heightened regional tensions, intensified by the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel, a key ally of the United States, and the Iranian-supported Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin defended the action, stating that U.S. forces had executed "necessary and proportionate strikes" targeting "three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Ketaeb Hezbollah militia group (the Hezbollah Brigades) and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq."
“These precision strikes are in direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against US and coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias,” he said, referring to the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.
US-led coalition forces in Iraq and Syria have been targeted in more than 150 attacks since mid-October, many of them claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-linked groups that oppose US support for Israel in the Gaza conflict.
US forces have carried out a number of air strikes against the groups they hold responsible, drawing a backlash from Iraq which has demanded the coalition’s withdrawal, accusing it of overstepping its mission to assist the campaign against IS jihadists.
“This unacceptable act undermines years of cooperation, blatantly violates Iraq’s sovereignty and contributes to a reckless escalation… at a time when the region is already grappling with the danger of expanding conflict,” said a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani.
“We will treat these operations as acts of aggression and take necessary actions to preserve the lives and dignity of Iraqis,” added Yehia Rasool, the Iraqi leader’s spokesman for military affairs.