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Washington says Baghdad failed to 'protect' Americans as Iraq warns US ties at stake

Iraqis burning the American flag to protest airstrikes [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 December, 2019

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Iran and Iraq warned the US that its airstrikes against Kataib Hezbollah bases will not go unanswered, as relationships strain.
The US has accused Baghdad of failing to "protect" Americans and Washington's interests in Iraq one day after it unleashed a deadly airstrike against Hezbollah Brigades militia forces in the region.

At least 25 members of an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia were killed in the airstrikes, which has been condemned by Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who said the US action on Sunday had violated Iraq's sovereignty.

The US military carried out the strikes against five sites of Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq and Syria, calling it retaliation for last week's killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the group.

"We have warned the Iraqi government many times, and we've shared information with them to try to work with them to carry out their responsibility to protect us," a senior US state department official told reporters in Washington on Monday.

He added that the US military and diplomats are in the
country "upon the invitation of the Iraqi government".

"So it's their responsibility and duty to protect us. And they have not taken the appropriate steps to do so," he added.

Hours after the comment, supporters of a pro-Iran militia stormed the US embassy in Baghdad.

In what appears to be a deepening fracture in the relationship between Baghdad and Washington, Iraq appeared to suggest that it would be revisiting its relationship with the US following the airstrikes.

"What happened yesterday (US airstrikes) was a clear aggression, not rightful and we tried to obstruct it and stop it but there was insistence and very unfortunately this thing happened," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

"God willing, we will be able to face it and get out of this situation with a stronger, more secure and safer Iraq."

Mahdi had reportedly attempted to inform militia members of the impending strike against them.

"American forces acted on their political priorities, not those of the Iraqis," the statement went on to say.

The attacks "force Iraq to review its relations and its security, political and legal framework to protect its sovereignty".

The US ambassador in Baghdad will be invited to discuss the matter further, the Iraqi ministry of foreign affairs tweeted. 

"We also stress that Iraq is an independent country, that its internal security is a priority… and it will not be allowed to be a battlefield, a passage to carry out attacks, or a place [to be used] to harm neighbouring countries," it added.

A strong response

The deputy leader of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), or Hashd Al-Shaabi, militia coalition, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, has vowed a "harsh response" against the US following the airstrikes.

"The blood of martyrs and the injured will not flow in vain, and our response will be harsh against the American troops in Iraq," Al-Muhandis said in a statement to the press.

The victims of the strike included the comamdner of the 45th brigade of Hezbollah Brigades. Jawad al-Rubaiae, a senior PMF official said that 51 fighters were also wounded in the strike, which targeted Hezbollah Brigades weapons caches and command and control facilities on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

This comes as another pro-Iran faction, Assaib Ahl al-Haq – whose leaders were recently hit with US sanctions – called for Americans to withdraw from Iraq.

'No, no, America.. The US is the enemy of other nations' the banner reads [Getty]

"The American military presence has become a burden for the Iraqi state and a source of threat against our forces," he said.

"It is therefore imperative for all of us to do everything to expel them all by legitimate means."

Iran's foreign ministry has warned Washington it will face consequences for its "illegal" airstrikes on Tehran-backed militias, deepening the riff.

"These attacks proved the false claim of the US in fighting Daesh…in a way that the United States targeted the forces that have inflicted heavy tolls on the Daesh terrorists in recent years," ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi told reporters on Monday.

"With these attacks…the US shows its disregard for the independence and sovereignty of countries and must bear responsibility for the consequences of this illegal action."

The airstrike was also fiercely opposed by Iraqi citizens, who took to the streets to protest and waved the Iraq flag around and burned the American flag.

Protests erupted in the southern city of Basra on Monday, where they denounced the previous night’s attacks. 

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