US drone strike in Baghdad kills senior commander of Iran-backed militia

Paramilitary officials say 2 other members of Kataeb Hezbollah, which US suspects led deadly attack on American forces, killed in car with Wissam Mohammed ‘Abu Bakr’ al-Saadi

Civil defense members gather at the site of a burned vehicle targeted by a US drone strike in east Baghdad, Iraq, February 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Civil defense members gather at the site of a burned vehicle targeted by a US drone strike in east Baghdad, Iraq, February 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

BAGHDAD — A US drone strike hit a car in the Iraqi capital Wednesday night, killing three members of the powerful Kataeb Hezbollah militia, including a high-ranking commander.

The strike came on a main thoroughfare in the Mashtal neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. A crowd gathered as emergency response teams picked through the wreckage. Security forces closed off the heavily guarded Green Zone, where a number of diplomatic compounds are located, amid calls for protesters to storm the US embassy.

US Central Command later confirmed the strike, saying it targeted a senior Kataeb Hezbollah commander “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces in the region,” without naming him.

“The United States will continue to take necessary action to protect our people,” the CENTCOM statement said. “We will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces’ safety.”

Two officials with Iran-backed militias in Iraq said that one of the three killed was Wissam Mohammed “Abu Bakr” al-Saadi, the commander in charge of Kataeb Hezbollah’s operations in Syria. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists.

The strike came amid roiling tensions in the region and days after the US military launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for a drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan in late January.

The US has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a broad coalition of Iran-backed militias, for the attack in Jordan, and officials have said they suspect Kataeb Hezbollah in particular of leading it.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has regularly claimed strikes on bases housing US troops in Iraq and Syria against the backdrop of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, saying that they are in retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel in its war against the Gaza-ruling terror group following the October 7 massacres.

Kataeb Hezbollah had said in a statement that it was suspending attacks on American troops to avoid “embarrassing the Iraqi government” after the strike in Jordan, but others have vowed to continue fighting.

On Sunday, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a drone attack on a base housing US troops in eastern Syria killed six fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led group allied with the United States.

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