Iraqi Militias Promise to 'Avenge' Their 'Righteous Martyrs' After U.S. Airstrike

Iraqi militia officials promised to enact revenge after the U.S. military carried out airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed groups Sunday night.

"We...will avenge the blood of our righteous martyrs against the perpetrators of this heinous crime, and with God's help we will make the enemy taste the bitterness of revenge," the officials told the Associated Press. They said four militiamen were killed in the airstrike near the Syrian border.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called the airstrikes "defensive," saying they were launched against operational and weapons storage facilities in response to attacks against U.S. troops by militias.

"The United States took necessary, appropriate and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation—but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message," he told the AP.

Airstrikes U.S. Iraqi Forces
An Iraqi security forces vehicle on the road outside Baghdad International Airport on June 10, one day after a booby-trapped drone struck the airport area in Iraq's capital. SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Kirby said the militias were using the facilities to launch unmanned aerial vehicle attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. It was the second time the Biden administration has taken military action in the region since he took over earlier this year.

The Pentagon said the facilities were used by Iran-backed militia factions, including Kata'ib Hezbollah and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that closely monitors the Syrian conflict through activists on the ground, reported that at least seven Iraqi militiamen were killed in the airstrikes.

The Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi state-sanctioned umbrella of mostly Shiite militias—including those targeted by the U.S. strikes—said their men were on missions to prevent infiltration by the Islamic State group and denied the presence of weapons warehouses.

Iraq's military condemned the strikes as a "blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security." It called for avoiding escalation but also said that Iraq should not be an "arena for settling accounts"—a reference to the U.S. and Iran. It represented rare condemnation by the Iraqi military of U.S. airstrikes.

In Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused the U.S. of creating instability in the region. "Definitely, what the U.S. is doing is disrupting the security of the region," he said on Monday.

U.S. military officials have grown increasingly alarmed over drone strikes targeting U.S. military bases in Iraq, which became more common since a U.S.-directed drone killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year.

Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a nonbinding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.

Sunday's strikes mark the second time the Biden administration launched airstrikes along the Iraq-Syria border region. In February, the U.S. launched airstrikes against facilities in Syria, near the Iraqi border, that it said were used by Iranian-backed militia groups.

The Pentagon said those strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier that month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops.

At that time, Biden said Iran should view his decision to authorize U.S. airstrikes in Syria as a warning that it can expect consequences for its support of militia groups that threaten U.S. interests or personnel.

"You can't act with impunity. Be careful," Biden said when a reporter asked what message he had intended to send.

On Sunday, Kirby said Biden "has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel. Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting U.S. interests in Iraq, the President directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks."

The Pentagon spokesman added: "As a matter of international law, the United States acted pursuant to its right of self-defense. The strikes were both necessary to address the threat and appropriately limited in scope."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Sunday that the U.S. airstrikes "appear to be a targeted and proportional response to a serious and specific threat," adding, "Protecting the military heroes who defend our freedoms is a sacred priority."

US Airstrikes Iraqi
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One on Sunday. Patrick Semansky/AP Photo