Updated Dec 29, 2019

U.S. forces conduct airstrikes against Iran-backed militia in Syria, Iraq

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

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U.S. deploying 750 troops to Middle East after embassy attack in Iraq

Smoke billowing from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Photo: U.S. Embassy in Iraq/AFP via Getty Images

The United States has stepped up its response to unrest in Iraq after the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was attacked by deploying 750 troops to the region at the direction of President Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday.

"[The] soldiers will deploy to the region immediately & additional forces from the [Immediate Response Force] are prepared to deploy over the next several days. This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today. The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world."
— Esper's announcement via Twitter
Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 1, 2020

U.S. to send "additional forces" after embassy in Baghdad attacked by protesters

Protesters set fires in front of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Photo: Khalid Mohammed/AP

Some local staff were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, while others remained inside a safe room within the compound as thousands of protesters and militia fighters thronged the gates in fury at U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, the AP reports.

The latest: Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement, "We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense. We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy."

Go deeperArrowUpdated Dec 31, 2019

Iraqi PM asks Pompeo to send delegation to plan U.S. troop withdrawal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in January 2019. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday that the U.S. should send delegates to Iraq in order to determine the best way to withdraw all of its troops there, the AP reports.

The big picture: While tensions between the U.S. and Iran seem to be lessening, Abul-Mahdi is standing his ground and backing the Iraqi parliament's non-binding resolution to expel all U.S. troops from the country.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 10, 2020