An Iranian-backed militia vowed on Sunday to engage in “open war” with U.S. forces in Iraq and to target U.S. aircraft in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Syria.
The trio of U.S. airstrikes launched Sunday night targeted several Iran-backed militias, including the Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH). Following the strikes, the KSS militant group issued a statement reported by the New York Times in which they vowed, “From now on, we will go to open war with the American occupation, the first action of which is targeting the enemy planes in beloved Iraq’s sky.”
The KSS and KH are part of the primarily Shia Muslim Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a conglomerate of Iraqi paramilitary groups, of which many have received support from Iran and which have been behind previous attacks targeting U.S. bases and personnel in Iraq. The latest U.S. airstrikes came in response to three different rocket attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces in Iraq last week.
The U.S. strikes were intended to disrupt the pro-Iranian militant groups from carrying out future attacks and targeted various facilities the Pentagon said have been used to store advanced conventional weapons, including unmanned aerial vehicles.
While all three U.S. airstrikes landed on the Syria side of the border, the strikes earned condemnation from the Iraqi government.
Maj. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Defense and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, said, “We condemn the US air attack that targeted a site on the Iraqi-Syrian border last night, which represents a blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security in accordance with all international conventions.”
“Iraq renews its refusal to be an arena for settling accounts, and clings to its right to sovereignty over its lands, and prevents it from being used as an arena for reactions and attacks,” Rasool continued. “We call for calm and avoiding escalation in all its forms, stressing that Iraq will carry out the necessary investigations, procedures and contacts at various levels to prevent such violations.”
U.S. forces have been assisting the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS since 2014, but while the U.S. is permitted by Iraq to help target ISIS in the north, they are generally barred from operating in parts of the country where Iranian-backed militias commonly operate.
The Iranian-backed militias have frequently targeted U.S. forces, and have reportedly begun using explosive-laden drones to carry out their attacks.