An Iranian-backed militia official downplays the importance of US strikes in Iraq, and hints at calm

Syrian official media reported that the raids resulted in casualties, but did not give a number. Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 23 people were killed in the Syrian strikes, all of them ordinary fighters.

Iraqi government spokesman Bassem Al-Awadi said in a statement on Saturday that the strikes in Iraq near the Syrian border resulted in the deaths of 16 people, including civilians, and caused “major damage” to homes and private property.

An initial battle damage assessment showed the United States hit each of its planned targets as well as a few “dynamic targets” that emerged as the mission unfolded, including a surface-to-air missile site and drone launch sites, a U.S. official said Saturday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details that have not yet been made public, did not yet have an assessment of the victims.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday that it would summon the US embassy's charge d'affaires – the ambassador outside the country – to lodge a formal protest against US strikes on “Iraqi military and civilian sites.”

The air attack was the first shot in American retaliation for a drone strike that killed three American soldiers in Jordan last weekend. The United States blamed this on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an alliance of militias backed by Iran.

Meanwhile, Iran tried to distance itself from the attack, saying the militias were acting independently of its direction.

The official Iraqi spokesman, Al-Awadi, condemned the strikes and described them as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, especially since some of them targeted Population Mobilization Forces facilities. The Popular Mobilization Forces, an alliance of Iranian-backed militias, were officially placed under the umbrella of the Iraqi Armed Forces after joining the fight against the Islamic State in 2014, but in reality they still operate largely outside state control.

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The Popular Mobilization Forces said in a statement on Saturday that one of the sites that was targeted was an official security headquarters for the group. In addition to 16 dead, 36 were injured, “while the search continues for the bodies of a number of missing persons.”

The Iraqi government has been in a delicate situation since a group of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias calling themselves the Islamic Resistance in Iraq – many of whose members are also part of the Popular Mobilization Forces – began launching attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria on October 18. The group described the strikes as a response to Washington's support for Israel in the Gaza war.

Behind the scenes, Iraqi officials have tried to rein in the militias, while also condemning US retaliatory strikes as a violation of the country's sovereignty and calling for the exit of the 2,500 US troops in the country as part of the international coalition to fight ISIS. Last month, Iraqi and American military officials launched formal talks to reduce the coalition presence, a process that is likely to take years.

Kataib Hezbollah, one of the main Iranian-backed militias, said it had suspended its attacks on US forces after Sunday's strike that killed US forces in Jordan, to avoid “embarrassing” the Iraqi government.

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