US drone strike kills senior Iran-backed militia leader in Baghdad

“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,” according to the statement.

Wednesday’s drone attack followed
U.S. airstrikes last week on 85 targets with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
and its associated militias in Iraq and Syria. At the time, the U.S. said the operation was just the first phase of its response, hinting that more attacks would come in the days ahead.

The Associated Press reports three members were killed on Wednesday and that one of them was
Wissam Mohammed “Abu Bakr” al-Saadi
, the chief of Kataib Hezbollah’s Syria operations.

By attacking Tehran-backed militia leaders, the U.S. wades deeper into a tit-for-tat fight with Iran. The Biden administration has repeatedly signaled it doesn’t seek a war with Tehran, studiously avoiding hitting any targets inside its sovereign territory.

But the militias have targeted American troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan more than 160 times since Oct. 17 — when Israel began its invasion of Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. The U.S. has repeatedly struck Tehran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria as well as killed militia members.

The Wednesday drone strike also illustrates the worsening situation in the broader Middle East. Israel continues to fight Hamas in Gaza as both sides work on a cease-fire deal that could see hostages released. Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen still target commercial ships in the Red Sea, prompting the U.S. and its allies to hit targets either in response to an attack or to preempt one.

There are signs that the militia groups in Iraq and Syria may be pulling back. Soon after the Jan. 28 U.S. attack, Kataib Hezbollah put out a statement saying it would stop attacking U.S. positions. Militants have carried out only two attacks on U.S. troops in the region since the Feb. 2 U.S. strikes, both in Syria.

The U.S. has not said its retaliatory strikes on Iranian-backed militias have ended, leaving the possibility open that other leaders of Iranian-backed militia groups will soon be in the crosshairs.

“Let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond,” President Joe Biden said in a statement last week following the first response.