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Washington — US air strikes against Iran-backed militia in Iraq and Syria over the weekend were a necessary and appropriate action meant to limit the risk of escalation, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Monday.
The US military said it targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one in Iraq in response to drone attacks by the militia against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.
“We took necessary, appropriate, deliberate action that is designed to limit the risk of escalation, but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” Blinken told reporters in Rome.
Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran in a statement named four members of the Kataib Sayyed al-Shuhada faction they said were killed in the attack on the Syria-Iraq border. They vowed to retaliate.
It was the second time President Joe Biden had ordered retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed militia since taking office five months ago. He ordered limited strikes in Syria in February, that time in response to rocket attacks in Iraq.
Two US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said militias carried out at least five drone attacks against facilities used by US and coalition personnel in Iraq since April.
In an apparent indication that Baghdad is determined to avoid getting sucked into a US-Iran escalation, Iraq’s military issued a rare condemnation of the US. strikes. The Iraqi and US militaries co-ordinate closely in a separate battle in Iraq, fighting remnants of the Sunni extremist group Islamic State.
Iraq’s government condemned the strikes against Iran-aligned fighters and said it would “study all legal options” to prevent such action being repeated.
Biden’s administration has been looking to potentially revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. His critics say Iran cannot be trusted and point to the drone attacks as further evidence that Iran and its proxies will never accept a US military presence in Iraq or Syria.
Iran called on the US to avoid “creating crisis” in the region.
“Certainly what the US is doing is disrupting security in the region, and one of the victims of this disruption will be the US,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday.
Biden declined to say on the strikes in their aftermath on Sunday. But on Monday, he meet Israel’s outgoing president, Reuven Rivlin, at the White House for a broad discussion that will include Iran and US efforts to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal. Those efforts have raised serious concerns in Israel, Iran’s arch-foe.
In Rome on Sunday, new Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid told Blinken of Israel’s reservations about the Iran nuclear deal being put together in Vienna while pledging to fix “the mistakes made” in US-Israeli relations in recent years.
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