ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Iraq’s Kataeb Hezbollah faction suspends attacks on US forces

Iran-aligned group suspected in attack that killed 3 US troops says its decision stems from a wish to prevent embarrassment for the Baghdad government

Members of an Iraqi Shiite militant group attend the funeral of a fighter with the Kataib Hezbollah, who was killed in a US airstrike, in Baghdad, Iraq, January 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Members of an Iraqi Shiite militant group attend the funeral of a fighter with the Kataib Hezbollah, who was killed in a US airstrike, in Baghdad, Iraq, January 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iran-aligned Iraqi armed group Kataeb Hezbollah announced on Tuesday the suspension of all its military operations against US troops in the region, in a decision it said was aimed at preventing “embarrassment” of the Iraqi government, the group said.

“As we announce the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces – in order to prevent embarrassment of the Iraqi government – we will continue to defend our people in Gaza in other ways,” Kataeb Hezbollah Secretary-General Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi said in a statement released by the group on Telegram.

Three US troops were killed in a drone attack near the Jordan-Syria border on Sunday that the Pentagon said bore the “footprints” of Kataeb Hezbollah, though a final assessment had not yet been made.

A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on the group’s statement, adding: “Actions speak louder than words.” The US has vowed to respond to the attack.

Iran-aligned groups have been waging attacks against Israeli and US targets from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, since their Palestinian ally Hamas started a war with Israel on October 7 by launching an unprecedented attack, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 253 hostages.

Kataeb Hezbollah is the most powerful faction in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of hardline Shi’ite armed factions that have claimed more than 150 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria since the Gaza war began.

Fighters lift flags of Iraq and paramilitary groups, including al-Nujaba and Kataib Hezbollah, during a funeral in Baghdad for five militants killed a day earlier in a US strike in northern Iraq, on December 4, 2023. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)

The US has responded with deadly strikes in Syria and Iraq in a cycle of escalating violence that Iraqi officials said threatened to undo progress toward stabilizing the country after decades of conflict.

Kataeb Hezbollah’s decision followed days of intensive efforts by Iraq’s prime minister to prevent a new escalation after the Jordan attack, his foreign affairs adviser Farhad Alaadin said.

“Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani has been hard at work in the past few days, engaging with all relevant parties inside and outside Iraq,” Alaadin said in an interview.

“All sides need to support the efforts of the Prime Minister to prevent any possible escalation,” he added.

Founded in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Kataeb Hezbollah is one of the elite Iraqi armed factions closest to Iran.

Iran has denied involvement in the attacks by Iraqi groups, saying all members of Iran’s “Axis of Resistance” plan and execute operations by themselves.

Iraq’s government is backed by parties and armed groups close to Iran, though not directly by the hardline groups that have been firing on US forces, Western and Iraqi officials say.

Baghdad has condemned the attacks while also saying regional escalation would continue as long as the Gaza war went on.

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