by Israel Hayom Staff , News Agencies
Our battle with America and its mercenaries is now open to all possibilities," says spokesman for Iran-backed Hezbollah Brigades. Lebanon's Hezbollah: Those who took the decision to carry out the attack "will soon discover how stupid this criminal decision was."
|Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, right, listen as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper delivers a statement on Iraq and Syria, at US President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property, Sunday | Photo: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci|
An Iranian-backed militia said Monday that the death toll from US military strikes in Iraq and Syria against its fighters has risen to 25, vowing to exact revenge for the "aggression of evil American ravens."
The announcement in Baghdad came a day after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Washington had carried out military strikes targeting the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia blamed for a rocket attack that killed an American contractor in Iraq last week.
The US military said "precision defensive strikes" were conducted against five sites of Kata'ib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq and Syria.
"Our battle with America and its mercenaries is now open to all possibilities," Kata'ib Hezbollah said in a statement around midnight Sunday. "We have no alternative today other than confrontation and there is nothing that will prevent us from responding to this crime."
The US blames the militia for a rocket barrage Friday that killed a US defense contractor at a military compound near Kirkuk, in northern Iraq. Officials said as many as 30 rockets were fired in that attack.
Iraq's Hezbollah Brigades, a separate force from the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, operates under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Many of them are supported by Iran.
The Popular Mobilization Forces said Sunday that the US strikes killed at least 19 of Kata'ib Hezbollah's members. But Kata'ib Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Mohieh told The Associated Press on Monday that the death toll rose to 25. At least 51 militiamen were wounded and some of them were in serious condition, he said, adding that the militia group's commanders would decide on the retaliation.
In Tehran, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi condemned the US strikes against Kata'ib Hezbollah as an "obvious case of terrorism" and accused Washington of ignoring Iraq's sovereignty.
Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah also blasted the "brutal American aggression," saying those who took the decision to carry out the attack "will soon discover how stupid this criminal decision was."
Kata'ib Hezbollah is led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of Iraq’s most powerful men. He once battled US troops and is now the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces. In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, designated a foreign terrorist organization by President Donald Trump earlier this year.
The US maintains some 5,000 troops in Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqi government to assist and train in the fight against the Islamic State group.
The attack that killed the American contractor and US counter-strikes come as months of political turmoil roil Iraq. About 500 people have died in anti-government protests, most of them demonstrators killed by Iraqi security forces.
The mass uprisings prompted the resignation last month of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who remains in a caretaker capacity.
In a statement, Abdul-Mahdi said Esper had called him about a half-hour before the US strikes on Sunday to tell him of US intentions to hit bases of the militia suspected of being behind Friday's rocket attack. Abdul-Mahdi said he asked Esper to call off the US plan.
Israel Hayom Staff , News Agencies
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