U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed on Wednesday that American forces conducted airstrikes against Kataib Hezbollah (KH), a prominent Iran-backed Shiite militia group in Iraq. The airstrikes were carried out in response to KH attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. The Iraqi government criticized the airstrikes, considering them as American “acts of aggression.”
CENTCOM stated that the strikes targeted KH headquarters, storage, and training locations associated with rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities. This action was a response to the Shiite militia’s attacks, including the assault on al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq on January 20.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin described the airstrikes as “necessary and proportionate” and emphasized the U.S. commitment to protecting its people and facilities. Despite the Iraqi government’s denouncement, CENTCOM defended the strikes as a response to ongoing provocations.
Iraqi officials reported two casualties and two injuries resulting from the U.S. airstrikes. The recent rocket and missile attack on al-Asad Airbase marked the latest in a series of provocations by Iranian proxies, with responsibility often claimed by the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” (IRI), an umbrella organization of Iran-backed militias.
The Iraqi armed forces spokesman, Maj. Gen. Yehia Rasool, labeled the U.S. airstrikes as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, pledging necessary actions to protect the lives and dignity of Iraqis. He criticized the U.S. for hindering progress in reshaping the future relationship and missions of the Coalition in Iraq.
Rasool accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring the situation in Gaza, linking Iran’s proxy forces’ attacks to pressure Israel over its conflict with Hamas. National security adviser Qassem al-Araji echoed these sentiments, condemning the airstrikes as a “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty” that does not contribute to bringing calm.
The Biden administration’s appeal to the Iraqi government to restrain Shiite militia forces proved ineffective. The government, aligned with the notion that ending Israel’s conflict with Hamas would halt militia attacks, emphasized the need to address the situation in Gaza.
Kataib Hezbollah, the targeted group in the CENTCOM strikes, is among the most powerful Iran-backed Shiite militias. KH previously collaborated with Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in January 2020, alongside KH founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.