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WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD, February 3 (Reuters) – The United States has launched airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against more than 85 targets linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and militias supported by it, reportedly killing nearly 40 people, in retaliation for a deadly attack on American troops.
The strikes, which included the use of long-range B-1 bombers flying from the United States, were the first in response to last weekend’s attack in Jordan by Iranian-backed militants, and more U.S. military operations are expected in the coming months. days.
The attacks intensified a conflict that has spread across the region since war broke out between Israel and Hamas following the Palestinian group’s violent attack on Israel on October 7.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a statement that the attacks represented “another adventurous and strategic error by the United States that will only result in increased tension and instability.”
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Iraq summoned the US chargé d’affaires in Baghdad to lodge a formal protest.
“Iraq reiterated its refusal to allow its lands to be an arena for settling scores or showing strength between belligerent countries,” the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, a state security force that includes Iranian-backed groups, said 16 of its members were killed, including fighters and medics. The government had previously said civilians were among the 16 dead.
In Syria, strikes killed 23 people who were guarding the targeted sites, said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports on the war in Syria.
Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes appeared to have been successful, triggering large secondary explosions as bombs struck the militants’ weaponry. He said the attacks were carried out knowing there would likely be casualties among those on the premises.
Despite the attacks, the Pentagon has said it does not want war with Iran and does not believe Tehran wants war either, even as Republican pressure mounts on US President Joe Biden to deliver a direct blow.
Iran, which supports Hamas, has sought to stay out of the regional conflict even as it supports groups that have entered the fray in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” hostile to Israel and U.S. interests.
“We do not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else, but the president and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces,” Austin said.
An Iraqi government statement said the areas bombed by US aircraft included places where Iraqi security forces are stationed near civilian sites. He said 23 people were injured, in addition to the 16 killed.
The White House said the United States briefed Iraq before the strikes. Baghdad later accused the United States of deception, saying a US claim of coordination with Iraqi authorities was “baseless”.
On Friday, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said his country will not start a war but will “respond vigorously” to anyone who intimidates it. He did not mention the U.S. strikes in a speech Saturday marking Iran’s Space Technology Day.
Iran’s ambassador to Damascus, Hossein Akbari, in comments reported by the semi-official Fars news agency, downplayed the airstrikes, denying that Iranian-linked targets were hit and saying the aim was to “destroy Syria’s civilian infrastructure.” .
Hamas said Washington was throwing “oil on the fire.”
Britain called the United States its “steadfast” ally and said it supports Washington’s right to respond to attacks.
Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, arriving at an EU meeting in Brussels, said the US strikes were the result of Iranian proxies “playing with fire”.
The strikes hit targets including command and control centers, rocket, missile and drone storage facilities, as well as logistics and munitions supply chain facilities, the US military said.
In Iraq, residents said several attacks hit the Sikak neighborhood in Al-Qaim, a residential area that local residents said was also used by armed groups to store large quantities of weapons. Militants had left the area and gone into hiding in the days following the attack in Jordan, local sources said.
US troops have been attacked more than 160 times in Iraq, Syria and Jordan since October 7, often with a mix of rockets and one-way strike drones, prompting the United States to carry out several retaliatory strikes even before the most recent strikes.
The United States has assessed that the drone that killed three soldiers and injured more than 40 other people in Jordan was made by Iran, US officials told Reuters.
“Our response began today. It will continue in times and places of our choosing,” Biden said.
The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Roger Wicker, criticized Biden for not imposing a high enough cost on Iran and for taking too long to respond.
Iranian advisers assist armed groups both in Iraq, where the United States has about 2,500 troops, and in Syria, where it has 900.