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Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah Brigades. Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images

The Pentagon announced in a statement Sunday that the U.S. conducted "precision defensive strikes" on five facilities in Iraq and Syria belonging to Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Iraqi militia.

The big picture: The Defense Department said the airstrikes were a response to a Friday Hezbollah rocket barrage that killed a U.S. defense contractor in a military compound in northern Iraq. Kataeb Hezbollah, also known as Hezbollah Brigades, said 19 fighters were killed and 35 injured, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The airstrikes could lead to a further escalation between the U.S. and Iranian proxy forces in the region after months of tensions.

  • "Iran and their KH proxy forces must cease their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, and respect Iraq's sovereignty, to prevent additional defensive actions by U.S. forces," Pentagon official Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
  • A spokesman for KH said in a statement: “For those who ask about the response: it will be the size of our faith."

The big picture: Iraq also risks being caught in the middle of an escalating conflict between the U.S. and Iran. An Iraqi spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that Defense Secretary Mark Esper notified Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi 30 minutes before the airstrikes, and that Abdul-Mahdi strongly objected.

  • “We consider it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation that will threaten Iraq and the region," the spokesperson told the WSJ.

Go deeper: Where U.S. troops and military assets are deployed in the Middle East

Go deeper

Biden's Day 1 challenges: Systemic racism

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor (PA Images)/Getty Images

Advocates are pushing President-elect Biden to tackle systemic racism with a Day 1 agenda that includes ending the detention of migrant children and expanding DACA, announcing a Justice Department investigation of rogue police departments and returning some public lands to Indigenous tribes.

Why it matters: Biden has said the fight against systemic racism will be one of the top goals of his presidency — but the expectations may be so high that he won't be able to meet them.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
47 mins ago - Health

Most Americans are still vulnerable to the coronavirus

Adapted from Bajema, et al., 2020, "Estimated SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence in the US as of September 2020"; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

As of September, the vast majority of Americans did not have coronavirus antibodies, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: As the coronavirus spreads rapidly throughout most of the country, most people remain vulnerable to it.

Trump set to appear at Pennsylvania GOP hearing on voter fraud claims

President Trumpat the White House on Tuesday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump is due to join his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Wednesday at a Republican-led state Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing to discuss alleged election irregularities.

Why it matters: This would be his first trip outside of the DMV since Election Day and comes shortly after GSA ascertained the results, formally signing off on a transition to President-elect Biden.