A US drone strike on a car in Baghdad has killed three members of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah militia, including a high-ranking commander, officials said after a string of blasts were heard in the Iraqi capital.
The strike late on Wednesday came on a main thoroughfare in the Mashtal neighbourhood 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 US embassy.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the commander who was killed had been targeted “in response to the attacks on US service members.”
The strike killed “a Kataeb Hezbollah commander responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces in the region,” according to CENTCOM, which said there are “no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties at this time.”
“The United States will continue to take necessary action to protect our people. We will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces’ safety,” it added.
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 Hashed al-Shaabi, a coalition of mainly pro-Iran paramilitaries now integrated into Iraq’s regular security forces, also confirmed al-Saadi’s death in a statement.
The strike came amid roiling tensions in the region and days after the US 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 US troops in Jordan in late January.
The US 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.
Reacting to the commander’s death, Iraq’s pro-Iran Al-Nujaba movement in a statement promised a “targeted retaliation”, assuring that “these crimes will not go unpunished”.
The group added that American “violations” will not cease without “a firm official position from the Iraqi government”.
Hamas also condemned a “violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and security”, according to a statement.
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has regularly claimed strikes on bases housing US 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.
US and allied troops have been attacked more than 165 times in the Middle East since the outbreak of the war in Gaza.
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 US 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 the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Wednesday rejected terms proposed by Hamas for a hostage-release agreement that would lead to a permanent ceasefire, vowing to continue the war until “absolute victory”.