On Feb. 7, 2024, a U.S. airstrike killed Abu Baqir al Saadi, a senior commander in Kataib Hezbollah who reportedly ran its drone operations in Syria. He had been linked to the deaths of three American soldiers based at Tower 22, a military outpost in Jordan along the borders with Syria and Iraq. The Americans died in a drone strike on Jan. 28. Ten days later, the U.S. unleashed a hellfire missile on al Saadi’s car as it drove through a busy Baghdad street.
Kataib Hezbollah is one of several militias linked to Iran as part of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. But after the Shiite militia joined the fight against the ISIS caliphate in 2014, it was also incorporated in the Iraqi military as part of the Popular Mobilization Forces. For years, Kataib Hezbollah has engaged in arms smuggling from Iran, through Iraq, into Syria at the Abu Kamal crossing, with some arms, rockets and missiles also destined for a militia ally in Lebanon. U.S. airstrikes had previously targeted Kataib Hezbollah facilities at Abu Kamal.
The Pentagon said it “will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces’ safety.” The following are additional statements by the Pentagon and reaction from Iraq and the Iran-backed militias. The Iraqi government, which has long relied on American military support and aid, charged that the U.S. deployment was generating “instability” and violated past agreements. Kataib Hezbollah vowed to continue its “jihadist” operations. Other Iran-backed militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen also condemned the attack.
Central Command on February 7: “At 9:30 p.m. (Baghdad Time) February 7, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted a unilateral strike in Iraq in response to the attacks on U.S. service members, killing a Kata’ib Hezbollah commander responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region. There are no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties at this time.
“The United States will continue to take necessary action to protect our people. We will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces’ safety.”
Yahya Rasool, military spokesperson, on February 8: The United States “has become a factor for instability and threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict… The coalition consistently deviates from the reasons and objectives for its presence on our territory.”
Tahseen al Khafaji, Joint Operations Command spokesperson, on February 7: The strike was “a new aggression by the United States… and undermined all agreements between Iraq and the United States.”
Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq
Secretary General Abu Hussein al Hamidawi on February 8: U.S. aggression “calls us to remain steadfast in the jihadist approach.”
Statement on February 7: “Our drones and missiles began from Ain Al Asad, have reached Jordan to Haifa, to Karesh, and will reach anywhere we want at any time we want.”
Al Nujaba Movement in Iraq
Statement on February 8: “O heroic resistors, you who are fighting the brutal occupier, this is your time, and this is your battle. By God, we only die once, let it be with honor and dignity, and let our revenge for the blood of the martyrs be retaliation against America, its agents, its partners and its interests. Let this be our path and our primary cause from now on.
“Today, in the center of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, the treacherous American aircraft that roam in our airspace, violating our sovereignty without any deterrent, targeted the leader of the Hashed Al-Shaabi coalition and Kataib Hezbollah leader, the Mujahed Haj Abu Bakr Al-Saadi… resulting in his martyrdom. Where is our sovereignty and where is the sanctity of blood and land?
“These violations will not be the last and will not cease without a firm official position from the Iraqi government. Our response will be targeted, God willing, and these crimes will not go unpunished. You will know at that point that our patience has run out. Wait for the response and we will choose the appropriate time and place. The righteous will triumph in the end.”
Ashab al Kahf in Iraq
Statement on February 7: “Set your clocks for revenge time, its minutes are missiles, its seconds are drones.”
Hamas in Gaza
Statement on February 8: “We consider this to be a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and security, done on behalf of the Zionist occupation’s agenda and its expansionist projects… The region will not witness stability or peace except through an end to the Zionist occupation of our Palestinian and Arab lands.”
Palestinian Islamic Jihad
Statement on February 8: The United States “incites conflict in the region, protects the Zionist entity, and supports the war of extermination.”
Hezbollah in Lebanon
Statement on February 8: “Resistance movements in the region have total confidence.”
Houthis in Yemen
Statement on February 7: “It indicates the extent of the impact and effectiveness of the Iraqi resistance strikes in support of the Palestinian people in Gaza and reflects the American-Israeli inability to stop the Islamic resistance strikes in Iraq…
“We affirm that the American presence in Iraq and the region is a major reason for destabilizing security and stability, and it is an illegal presence to target the nation and protect the Zionist entity.”