Islamic State claims responsibility for bombing in Iran, deadly US drone strike

A US strike in Baghdad on Thursday killed a pro-Iran military commander, the Pentagon said, with Al-Hashed al-Shaabi ex-paramilitaries saying it hit one of their headquarters.

It comes as terrorist group Islamic State (IS) claims responsibility for twin bombings that killed at least 84 people at a memorial ceremony in Iran for slain Revolutionary Guards general Qasem Soleimani.

US drone attack in Iraq

An Iraqi security official said two people were killed and seven wounded in the drone strike, which the government dubbed a “blatant aggression”.

But Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder said the strike was an act of self-defence against a commander who was actively planning attacks against US personnel.

“It is important to note that the strike was taken in self-defence, that no civilians were harmed and that no infrastructure or facilities were struck,” Ryder told journalists in Washington.

The strike targeted a leader of Harakat al-Nujaba who was “actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel,” according to Ryder, who said it also killed another of the group’s members.

The attack and the toll, confirmed by a Hashed source who asked not to be named, came as tension mounted in the region amid the Israel-Hamas war raging in the Gaza Strip.

The Hashed al-Shaabi are mainly pro-Iranian former paramilitary units who had battled Sunni Muslim jihadists and who are now integrated into the Iraqi armed forces.

Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the Hashed’s factions, said that “the deputy commander of operations for Baghdad, Mushtaq Talib al-Saidi”, had been “martyred in a US strike”.

Videos shared on a Telegram channel linked to the Hashed showed columns of smoke rising above the area of the strike on Baghdad’s Palestine Street, normally a bustling commercial road.

The site was cordoned off by Hashed forces, who blocked journalists’ access to the site, an AFP photographer said.

Regional tensions

The strike came after a spate of attacks on US forces in Iraq and neighbouring Syria since the start of the Gaza war. Washington says there have been more than 100 since mid-October.

Many have been claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-linked armed groups that oppose US support for Israel in the Gaza war.

The United States has around 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria as part of the multinational coalition fighting the Islamic State group since 2014.

The US military has responded to recent attacks by launching air strikes targeting sites used by Iran and its proxy forces in Iraq and Syria, including Hashed sites.

Thursday’s strike was denounced by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as “a dangerous escalation and assault”, according to his office.

“The Iraqi armed forces hold the global coalition forces responsible for this unwarranted attack,” a spokesperson for Sudani said in a statement.

Pro-Iran parties dominate Iraq’s parliament, and won the majority of council seats in most of the country’s provinces following provincial council elections held in December.

The Baghdad government has condemned some of the attacks on US targets but has also criticised Washington for taking matters into their own hands in response.

The Pentagon spokesman inisted Iraq remains “an important and valued partner,” and that “our forces are there at the invitation of the government of Iraq to help train and advise” as part of the anti-IS mission.

“As we have been doing all along, we will continue to consult closely with the Iraqi government about the safety and security of US forces,” Ryder said.

Suicide bombing attack in Iran

The Islamic State jihadist group said Thursday that it carried out twin bombings which killed at least 84 people at a memorial ceremony in Iran for slain Revolutionary Guards general Qasem Soleimani.The claim from IS came as Iran observed a day of national mourning for those killed in Wednesday’s blasts.

In a statement on Telegram, IS said two of its members “activated their explosives vests” among the crowds who had come to honour Soleimani on the anniversary of his death in a targeted US drone strike in Baghdad four years ago.

Iranian investigators had already confirmed that the first blast at least was the work of a “suicide bomber” and believed the trigger for the second was “very probably another suicide bomber”, the official IRNA news agency reported earlier, citing an “informed source”.

The Security Council condemned the twin bombings as a “cowardly terrorist attack” and urged all UN member states “to co-operate actively” with Iran in holding its “perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors” accountable.

Soleimani, who headed the Guards’ foreign operations arm the Quds Force, was a staunch enemy of IS, a Sunni extremist group which has carried out previous attacks in majority-Shiite Iran.

The death toll was revised down from around 100 the day after the bombings, which also wounded hundreds near Soleimani’s tomb in the southern city of Kerman.

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