U.S. forces bombed sites used by Iran-backed militants in Iraq early on Wednesday after a spate of attacks targeting U.S. personnel, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said, killing two persons, according to Iraqi officials.
The strikes came just days after U.S. troops in western Iraq were targeted with ballistic missiles and rockets in an attack the Pentagon blamed on militants supported by Tehran.
According to Iraqi sources, the U.S. strikes targeted the Hezbollah Brigades, a group affiliated with the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation force), an alliance of Iran-backed former paramilitary groups now integrated in Iraq’s regular armed forces.
They hit sites in the Jurf al-Sakhr area, south of Baghdad, as well as in the Al-Qaim area on the border with Syria.
Two persons were killed and two wounded in the bombardments in the Al-Qaim sector, an interior ministry official and a former member of the Hashed al-Shaabi said.
The U.S. strikes come against an already explosive regional backdrop, fuelled by the war in Gaza between Washington’s ally Israel and the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.
In a statement, Mr. Austin said U.S. forces had carried out “necessary and proportionate strikes” against “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 U.S. 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.
U.S.-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 U.S. support for Israel in the Gaza conflict.