US airstrike kills Iranian-backed militia commander in Baghdad – Financial Times

Unlock Editor's Digest for free

The US military has killed a senior commander of an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, saying an airstrike on the group's logistics headquarters in central Baghdad was in “self-defense” after the faction carried out attacks on American personnel.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said the target, Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, also known as Abu Taqwa, was “actively involved in planning and executing attacks against” the U.S. military in the region. Saidi was deputy director of operations for the Popular Mobilization Units in Baghdad, a network of Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups.

Thursday's strike comes amid escalating tensions in the Middle East related to Israel's ongoing war with Hamas, the Palestinian armed group also backed by Iran.

Several Iran-backed militias in the region, including Yemen-based Houthi rebels and Lebanon's Hezbollah, have stepped up their attacks on Israel and other U.S. allies in the Middle East in recent weeks, prompting the Pentagon to issue its own warnings against impending retaliation.

The Popular Mobilization Units confirmed the death of Saidi, who was also the commander of the Harakat al-Nujaba militia, which is close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The attack hit a building on Palestine Street in the center of the Iraqi capital, described by the PMU as the group's “logistical support headquarters.”

Several other fighters were killed and injured in the attack, Iraqi authorities added. Footage and images posted by pro-militia channels on Telegram showed a destroyed vehicle engulfed in flames that they said was the target of the attack. The Financial Times was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the social media posts.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia' al-Sudani called the attack “unjustified” and a “dangerous escalation and violation of Iraq's sovereignty.” Targeted attacks in central Baghdad have become increasingly rare.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a newly formed shadow group of Iran-backed militias, has carried out more than 100 attacks on military bases housing U.S. and other foreign troops in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in Gaza were .

The IRI said the attacks were in retaliation for US President Joe Biden's support of Israel in the war against the Palestinian armed group. Experts believe that Harakat al-Nujaba is one of the most influential factions of the IRI.

Last month, Washington carried out retaliatory air strikes in Iraq after a drone strike by Iran-aligned militants left a US soldier in critical condition and two others injured. There have also been recent attacks against Iran-aligned groups in Syria.

Thursday's attack comes two days after a suspected drone strike that killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut. Both Lebanon and Hamas blamed Israel for the attack. In the past, Israel has carried out attacks on weapons depots and facilities linked to Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq.

Sudani recently said that the Iraqi government would “end the presence of international coalition forces.” While he became prime minister with the support of Iranian-allied factions and militias, Sudani has also tried to maintain good relations with Washington.

There are more than 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria advising and assisting local forces to prevent a resurgence of violence by Isis militants. The Anti-Terror Coalition was founded in 2014.

“We view this action as a dangerous escalation and attack on Iraq that departs from the spirit and text of the mandate and mission for which the global coalition in Iraq was established,” said Yahia Rasool, Iraq's military spokesman.