Polish FM: Pro-Iran militias played with fire and got burnt

Iran calls US strikes in Iraq, Syria a ‘strategic mistake’; UK backs ‘steadfast ally’

Syria and Iraq assail Washington for violation of sovereignty; Hamas says US ‘poured oil on fire’; EU foreign policy chief calls for calm; unconfirmed reports of nearly 40 killed

File: US soldiers patrol an area in the town of Tal Hamis, southeast of the city of Qameshli in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh governorate, on January 24, 2024. (Delil Souleiman/AFP)
File: US soldiers patrol an area in the town of Tal Hamis, southeast of the city of Qameshli in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh governorate, on January 24, 2024. (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

The United States faced condemnation Saturday from Iran and its allies, while it received backing from London following airstrikes on Iraq and Syria launched in response to a drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan last weekend.

“Last night’s attack on Syria and Iraq is an adventurous action and another strategic mistake by the US government, which will have no result other than intensifying tension and instability in the region,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a statement.

The US has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a broad coalition of Iran-backed militias, for the deadly attack in Jordan, but has not yet narrowed it down to a specific group. Iraq’s Kataeb Hezbollah is, however, a top suspect.

The massive barrage of strikes overnight hit more than 85 targets at seven locations, including command and control headquarters, intelligence centers, rockets and missiles, drone and ammunition storage sites, and other facilities that were connected to the militias or the IRGC’s Quds Force, the Guard’s expeditionary unit that handles Tehran’s relationship with and arming of regional militias.

The US strikes appeared to stop short of directly targeting Iran or senior leaders of the IRGC’s Quds Force within its borders, as the US tries to prevent the conflict from escalating even further. Iran has denied it was behind the Jordan attack.

Syria’s military said that the overnight strikes killed “a number of civilians and soldiers, wounded others and caused significant damage to public and private property,” the Syrian military said in a statement.

File: Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani speaks in Tehran, Iran, on August 11, 2022. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

“The occupation of parts of Syrian territory by US forces cannot continue,” it added, affirming the army’s “determination to liberate all Syrian territory from terrorism and occupation.”

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said the strikes served to “inflame the conflict in the Middle East in an extremely dangerous way” and added “to the [US] record of violations of Syrian sovereignty” and territorial integrity.

Syria “condemns this blatant American violation and categorically rejects all the pretexts and lies used by the American administration to justify this attack,” the ministry said in a statement.

Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, claimed the strikes in Syria killed 23 people who had been guarding the targeted locations. The war monitor has been accused of inflating casualty numbers in the past.

In Iraq, 16 people were killed, among them civilians, and 25 injured in the strikes, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s office said on Saturday.

In a statement, it condemned the strikes as a “new aggression against Iraq’s sovereignty” and denied that they were coordinated by the Baghdad government beforehand with Washington, calling such assertions “lies.”

The presence of the US-led military coalition in the region “has become a reason for threatening security and stability in Iraq and a justification for involving Iraq in regional and international conflicts,” the statement added.

File: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 18, 2024. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

The government said Saturday it would call in the US charge d’affaires in Baghdad to deliver an official protest.

Iran-backed Palestinian terror group Hamas also condemned the attack, stating the US “bears full responsibility for the repercussions of this aggressive attack on Iraq and Syria.”

“Those who pour oil on the fire, we assure you that the region will not find stability, nor peace until the Zionist aggression, genocidal crimes, and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip ceases,” Hamas said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the British government expressed support for Washington’s right to respond to attacks.

“The UK and US are steadfast allies. We wouldn’t comment on their operations, but we support their right to respond to attacks,” a British government spokesperson said in a statement.

“We have long condemned Iran’s destabilizing activity throughout the region, including its political, financial and military support to a number of militant groups.”

The US and Britain last month launched coordinated strikes across Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi forces who have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea in what they describe as acts of solidarity with the Palestinians against Israel.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on all parties to avoid further escalation in the Middle East.

“Everybody should try to avoid that the situation becomes explosive,” Borrell said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

Borrell did not address the US strikes directly, but repeated a warning that the Middle East “is a boiler that can explode.”

He pointed to the war in Gaza, violence along the Lebanese border, bombings in Iraq and Syria, and attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

“That’s why we call everybody to try to avoid an escalation,” Borrell said.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell checks his phone after arriving for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Egmont Palace in Brussels, February 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Omar Havana)

Arriving at the meeting in Brussels, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told reporters: “Iran’s proxies have played with fire for months and years, and it’s now burning them.”

There are roughly 2,500 US troops deployed in Iraq and about 900 in Syria as part of the coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State group — the year the jihadist group overran around a third of Iraq.

Since mid-October, there have been more than 165 drone and rocket attacks against coalition troops in Iraq and Syria, with most being claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq.

Some of the Iran-backed militias have been a threat to US bases for years, but the groups intensified their assaults in the wake of Israel’s war against Hamas following the October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 253 others taken hostage.

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