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Source: NPR

Feb 8, 2024

U.S. drone strike kills a leader of an Iran-backed militia in Iraq

By Jane Arraf, James Hider

A U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed at least one leader of an Iran-backed militia on Wednesday, the Pentagon said.

In a nighttime attack Wednesday, the U.S. military "conducted a unilateral strike in Iraq in response to the attacks on U.S. service members, killing a Kata'ib Hezbollah commander responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region," U.S. Central Command said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

The Iraqi military command said it was investigating an attack on a civilian car that killed the passengers inside. Video verified by an Iraqi Interior Ministry official showed an SUV engulfed in flames but with the frame still intact.

The U.S. military said, "There are no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties at this time."

A Telegram channel used by Iraq's militias that are now part of Iraqi government forces announced that a commander had been killed.

The drone strike took place in a crowded commercial and residential neighborhood in east Baghdad, al-Mashtal, which is also the site of one of Kataib Hezbollah's offices. Explosions were heard miles away in the Iraqi capital.

A former senior U.S. military official said the strike appeared to have used a version of the Hellfire missile called an R9X with an inert rather than explosive warhead used in U.S. counterterrorism strikes to limit wider impact. The former official spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to speak publicly about Iran-backed militias.

Kataib Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. But the group said last week it would no longer target U.S. troops, just before American warplanes hit militia sites in both Iraq and Syria.

Security officials in Baghdad braced for anti-U.S. demonstrations after the strike, blocking streets near the heavily protected U.S. Embassy.

Some Iraqi members of parliament said the strike provided even more reason to demand that U.S. forces leave the country.

Iraq and the U.S. have begun negotiations on the future of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, which includes roughly 2,500 U.S. troops.

The United States would like to maintain a presence, although a smaller one, to help keep the Islamic State group from resurfacing. But militia and political leaders say the U.S. mission has moved beyond helping the Iraqis fight ISIS to focus on its conflict with Iran.

NPR's Tom Bowman contributed reporting.

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