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US conducts strike in Iraq on Kataib Hezbollah commander responsible for attacks on American forces

<i>Ahmed Saad/Reuters</i><br/>
Ahmed Saad/Reuters

By Natasha Bertrand, Oren Liebermann, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Haley Britzky, CNN

Washington (CNN) — A US military strike on Wednesday in Baghdad killed a Kataib Hezbollah commander who was responsible for attacks on American forces in the region, according to US Central Command.

The attack, on Wednesday evening local time, was carried out by a drone against a vehicle in Baghdad, according to US and Iraqi officials. There are no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties, Central Command said in its statement.

“We will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces’ safety,” Central Command said.

The US targeted Wisam Mohammed Saber al-Saedi in the strike in Baghdad on Wednesday, according to three US officials. Kataib Hezbollah released a statement mourning al-Saedi, saying al-Saedi’s death “calls us to remain steadfast in the jihadist approach.”

Local police officials said on Wednesday that the strike hit an SUV in the Al-Mashtal, a predominantly Shia neighborhood in eastern Baghdad.

The strike came as the US has been planning retaliatory attacks against Iran-backed militants who launched a drone attack at a US outpost in Jordan last month that killed three American soldiers. The US has blamed that attack on an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. A US official said the strike was part of the response President Joe Biden authorized last week in response to the Jordan attack.

A US official told CNN that Iraq was not notified in advance of Wednesday’s strike out of operational security concerns, but the official emphasized that the US was clear in conversations with Iraq that it would respond to the drone attack at “a time and place of its choosing.”

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement on X Wednesday evening that it sees the strike as a “new aggression by the United States.” Spokesperson Tahseen Al Khafaji added that the move acted to “undermine all understandings” between Iraq and the US.

A Biden administration official told CNN that the strike on the Kataib Hezbollah commander does not mark the end of a series of retaliatory actions, with more to come in the coming days in response to the killing of the three US soldiers.

A White House official said the execution of the strike itself and its timing were carefully considered to avoid any loss of innocent life – and that the US military moved to go after this commander as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Last week, Kataib Hezbollah said they were ceasing their attacks and operations against US forces in the region so as not to embarrass the Iraqi government.

A CNN team on the ground in Baghdad heard at least two loud explosions in quick succession around 9:30 p.m. local time.

The US conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria last week targeting seven locations used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated militias in retaliation for the deadly drone attack in Jordan, that also left dozens of troops injured. Officials said afterward that additional action would be taken against the militia groups, who have been attacking US and coalition forces across the region for months.

As of Tuesday, there had been at least 168 attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. The Pentagon said on Tuesday evening that there have been a total of 146 US casualties – including minor injuries – in the attacks: three service members killed in action, two sustaining very serious injuries, nine with serious injuries and 132 with “non-serious” injuries.

In addition to the three soldiers killed in the Jordan attack, three other service members were medically evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters on Tuesday that one remains there, while the other two service members have been transferred back to the US.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said earlier Wednesday that it is investigating an incident after a vehicle was targeted in eastern Baghdad and killed two people.

“A specialized technical team from the security services began investigating an incident targeting a civilian vehicle within the Al-Mashtal area,” on Wednesday night, the statement said.

The strikes inside Iraq comes at a sensitive time between the US and Iraqi governments as the two are expected to soon begin talks regarding the future of the US presence in the country.

In total, the US struck more than 80 targets across seven locations in Iraq and Syria last week, including command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, logistics and supply munition supply chain facilities, rockets and missiles.

The Iraqi government said the US’ strikes killed at least 16 people, including civilians. Pentagon officials have said only that US Central Command is continuing its battle damage assessment of the military action. The US did not notify Iraq ahead of the series of strikes it carried out in the country last week.

In a statement after previous strikes, Iraq called the US action a “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”

“The United States’ aggression against Al-Qa’im in Anbar Governorate and other Iraqi border areas in the west of the country, which resulted in the deaths of many Iraqi citizens, represents a flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” the statement said. “Despite the Iraqi government’s repeated denouncements of such actions, these attacks further escalate tensions and threaten regional security and stability.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s MJ Lee and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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