BAGHDAD (Reuters) – An Iran-aligned Iraqi militia group on Tuesday denied any function in current rocket assaults in opposition to U.S. targets in Iraq, however mentioned an assault in opposition to Saudi Arabia final month was justified.
It’s a uncommon direct denial and the primary time the Kataib Hezbollah group, one of many Iraqi factions closest to Iran, has commented on essentially the most critical incident this yr, a rocket assault in Erbil on Feb. 15 that killed a contractor working with U.S.-led forces.
The assaults over the previous 10 days are an escalation in opposition to U.S. websites in Iraq at a time when Washington and Tehran are in search of a approach to return to the nuclear deal deserted by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Kataib Hezbollah, essentially the most high-profile Iran-backed militia in Iraq, doesn’t often touch upon particular assaults.
Its direct denial of actions in opposition to U.S. pursuits whereas Washington says it’s nonetheless figuring out who carried out the Erbil assault is an indication that Iran and its allies want to keep away from an escalation that would carry a tricky U.S. response.
Some Western and Iraqi officers say the assaults, usually claimed by little-known teams, are being carried out by militants with hyperlinks to Kataib Hezbollah as a approach for Iranian allies to harass U.S. forces with out being held accountable.
“We completely didn’t goal Erbil or the Inexperienced Zone and haven’t any information of the group that did,” Kataib Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Mohi informed Reuters.
Within the Feb. 15 assault, rockets hit the U.S. navy base housed at Erbil Worldwide Airport within the Kurdish-run area killing one non-American contractor. One other salvo struck a base internet hosting U.S. forces north of Baghdad days later hurting not less than one contractor.
Rockets hit Baghdad’s Inexperienced Zone on Monday which homes the U.S. embassy and different diplomatic missions.
Mohi, whose group calls for a withdrawal of two,500 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and opposes Western affect there, mentioned those that carried out the assaults needed Washington to harden its stance on Iran or goal Iraqi militia.
He mentioned an opportunity should be given for a U.S.-Iranian detente, which may lead to U.S. troops leaving the nation.
Tensions have been excessive in Iraq and the broader area for the reason that U.S. killing of Iranian navy mastermind Qassem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah senior chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad in January 2020 sparked fears of a full regional conflict.
Washington’s Gulf Arab ally Riyadh has been more and more focused previously yr, together with two aerial assaults previously weeks.
Some Western and regional officers have mentioned a type of, on Jan. 23, which Saudi Arabia mentioned it thwarted, seemed to be launched from Iraqi soil for the primary time. Iraqi safety officers have mentioned they haven’t any proof it was launched from Iraq.
Mohi didn’t touch upon whether or not Kataib Hezbollah had any hyperlinks with the group that claimed the assault, Alwiyat Alwaad Alhaqq.
“We’ve not claimed it … however we do say that folks within the area who’ve suffered from Saudi (coverage) have the precise to retaliate,” he mentioned, responding to a query about whether or not Kataib Hezbollah was concerned.
(Reporting by John Davison; Modifying by Alison Williams)