The U.S. military has launched a series of strikes on five facilities in Iraq and Syria belonging to a militia considered to be backed by Iran, the Pentagon said Sunday, two days after an American contractor was killed in an attack on an Iraqi base.

The strikes came after repeated attacks on Iraqi bases by Kitaeb Hezbollah, Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. The American operations will “degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks” against coalition forces, he said.

The actions underscore the continued unpredictability of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria and raise the possibility of an escalation with the militia. The Pentagon says the group has links to Iran’s Quds Force, a special operations unit that U.S. officials say provides weapons and other support to proxy forces that help Iran extend its reach.

“Iran and their KH proxy forces must cease their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, and respect Iraq’s sovereignty, to prevent additional defensive actions by U.S. forces,” Hoffman said.

The targets that U.S. forces struck include three in Iraq and two in Syria, the Pentagon said. They include weapons storage facilities and locations the militia uses to plan attacks against coalition forces, Hoffman said.

Pentagon officials have raised concerns for weeks that Iranian-backed groups in Iraq were likely to attack U.S. forces. On Friday, more than 30 rockets were launched on an Iraqi base near the city of Kirkuk, killing the contractor and wounding several U.S. service members.

Lt. Col. Hassan Kadhim, an officer with the Iraqi army’s 8th Division, said he is concerned about the tensions between the United States and the Shiite-led Popular Mobilization Units, an umbrella organization of paramilitary groups that U.S. officials say often receive support from Iran.

“If something happened then we’ll be in the middle and it will be chaos,” he said.

He said it is clear that recent attacks carried out on U.S. bases in Iraq were not carried out by the Islamic State. “It’s being done by Iran proxies,” he said. Iran wants “to have their war in our land.”

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked Iraqi officials to respond to an uptick in attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq.

“My suspicion would be that Iran is behind these attacks, much like they’re behind a lot of malign behavior throughout the region, but it’s hard to pin down,” Esper told reporters. “So again, we need their help in terms of getting the security situation under control and stabilized, but we also still retain our right of self-defense.”

 

Salim reported from Baghdad.

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