POLITICS

Drone strike in Baghdad kills high-ranking militia commander, officials say

Feb 7, 2024, 11:52 AM | Updated: 1:36 pm

BAGHDAD (AP) — A U.S. drone strike hit a car in the Iraqi capital Wednesday night, killing three members of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah militia, including a high-ranking commander, officials said.

The strike came on a main thoroughfare in the Mashtal neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. A crowd gathered as emergency response teams picked through the wreckage. Security forces closed off the heavily guarded Green Zone, where a number of diplomatic compounds are located, amid calls for protesters to storm the U.S. embassy.

Two U.S. officials familiar with the matter said that a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander was targeted in a U.S. strike on Wednesday in Iraq. They were not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two officials with Iran-backed militias in Iraq said that one of the three killed was Wissam Mohammed “Abu Bakr” al-Saadi, the commander in charge of Kataib Hezbollah’s operations in Syria. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists.

The strike came amid roiling tensions in the region and days after the U.S. military launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for a drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan in late January.

The U.S. has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a broad coalition of Iran-backed militias, for the attack in Jordan, and officials have said they suspect Kataib Hezbollah in particular of leading it.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has regularly claimed strikes on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria against the backdrop of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, saying that they are in retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel in its war in Gaza that has killed 27,707 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Kataib Hezbollah had said in a statement that it was suspending attacks on American troops to avoid “embarrassing the Iraqi government” after the strike in Jordan, but others have vowed to continue fighting.

On Sunday, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a drone attack on a base housing U.S. troops in eastern Syria killed six fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led group allied with the United States.

The latest surge in the regional conflict came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected terms proposed by Hamas for a hostage-release agreement that would lead to a permanent cease-fire, vowing to continue the war until “absolute victory.”

Also on Wednesday, the media office of the Houthi rebels in Yemen reported two airstrikes in Ras Issa area in Salif district in Hodeida province.

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Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press journalists Ali Jabar in Baghdad and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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