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What we know about the Iranian-backed UAV Assault on US Forces in Iraq on Christmas Day

The Pentagon says it successfully carried out retaliatory airstrikes against Iranian-backed terror group Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq on Christmas Day. The precision strikes came just hours after a self-detonating drone hit the US Erbil Air Base in northern Iraq wounding three US servicemen, leaving one US service member in critical condition.

The Erbil Air Base (Source – Getty Images)

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on 7th October, there have been over 100 attacks (usually in the form of missiles and one way attack drones) on US forces stationed in Iraq and Syria over Washington’s support for Israel, but up until now, there had been no serious injuries.

Under President Biden’s direction, the US responded with retaliatory strikes at about 4:45 am on Tuesday, targeting three locations used by Kata’ib Hezbollah and its associated factions in Iraq.

US Central Command confirmed multiple Kata’ib Hezbollah fighters were likely killed with no civilian casualties reported.

Baghdad denounced the US strike calling the move, “an unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty”, while stressing that attacks by armed groups against military bases hosting US-led coalition advisers are hostile acts and violate Iraqi sovereignty, a government statement said.

Two Iraqi security sources confirmed that the US strikes targeted the headquarters of Kata’ib Hezbollah in the Iraqi city of Hilla south of Baghdad.

Kata’ib Hezbollah criticised Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s government for condemning the militia attacks on the US-led coalition targets and vowed to continue its attacks on US forces threatening, “We warn those with weak souls, from the highest level to the lowest, not to test our patience”.

The Iraqi government remains in a delicate position with limited control over Iran-backed militias on its territory, whose support the Prime Minister needed to win power a year ago and who now form a powerful bloc in his governing coalition.

In a statement, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “My prayers are with the brave Americans who were injured. The President and I will not hesitate to take necessary action to defend the United States, our troops, and our interests. There is no higher priority. While we do not seek to escalate conflict in the region, we are committed and fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities”.

The recent unrest came only a week after the US Defence Secretary Austin’s return from the Middle East, where his focus was on containing efforts by Iran-aligned groups to expand the Israel-Hamas war. This initiative includes the establishment of a US-led maritime coalition aimed at putting together an international task force that would patrol the Red Sea and make it safe for commercial vessels to use the Red Sea, as it goes to and from the Suez Canal. The Pentagon announced on Thursday that over 20 countries have agreed to participate in the new US-led coalition, known as Operation Prosperity Guardian.

Isabella Egerton is a leading intelligence specialist and investigator focused on state led level security investigations. She has a proven track record in running complex multi-jurisdictional intelligence projects around the globe.