On Sunday, US F-15 fighter jets struck three Kataib Hezbollah targets at Qaim near the Syrian border, and two in Syria. According to the Shiite militia group, at least 25 of their fighters were killed and nearly three dozen injured in the strikes. The Pentagon accused the group of “repeated attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces.”
“The prime minister described the American attack on the Iraqi armed forces as an unacceptable vicious assault that will have dangerous consequences,” read a statement from Mahdi’s office on Monday.
Though operating in Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah is funded by Iran. Washington has directly blamed Tehran for the group’s actions – which supposedly include a rocket attack on a coalition base in Kirkuk on Friday that killed an American contractor – and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned Iranian leaders of a “decisive US response” should they continue.
Mahdi’s statement highlights the uneasy relationship between militias like Kataib Hezbollah and the Iraqi government. Together with a smattering of other mostly Shiite militias, the group was sanctioned by the Iraqi government to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) from 2014 onwards. However, despite Mahdi referring to them as “Iraqi armed forces,” efforts to bring these ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’ under the command of the Iraqi military have only been partially successful.
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, acknowledged that some of these groups have carried out “illegal practices,” but condemned the US airstrike. Sistani said on Monday that “the Iraqi authorities alone are entitled to deal with these practices and take the necessary measures to prevent them.”
Mahdi’s government has yet to announce its official position on Sunday’s strikes and its future relationships, both with militia groups like Kataib Hezbollah and with the United States. Following a meeting of the Iraqi National Security Council on Monday, Baghdad announced that its relationship with the US is now up for “review.”
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