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After US Counterstrike, a Key Question

Will violence between US forces and Iranian-backed forces escalate or diminish?
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 30, 2019 9:29 AM CST

(Newser) – Over the weekend, the US launched a total of five airstrikes—three in Iraq and two in Syria—against a militia it blames for rocket attacks against Americans. Now that militia, as well as Iran, is condemning the airstrikes and warning about retaliation. The details:

  • The target: The US went after the Kataeb Hezbollah militia, not the same as the Lebanese militant group known only as Hezbollah, per the AP. In particular, the US blames Kataeb Hezbollah for a rocket strike in Iraq that killed an American contractor last week.
  • Iran's response: The militia is backed by Iran, which equated the US airstrikes to acts of terrorism, reports CNN. "It must accept responsibility of the consequences of the illegal attacks," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi. Iran says the US isn't respecting Iraqi sovereignty.

  • Militia's leader: The militia chief is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, described as one of Iraq's most powerful men. "The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq," he said Sunday, per Reuters. The group denies being behind the strike on Friday that killed the US contractor, as well as earlier attacks on bases housing American troops. It says the US airstrikes killed 25 of its fighters.
  • The context: The New York Times notes that it's not unusual for the US to retaliate after an American is killed. But this one is dicey because the militia is directly backed by Iran. US forces and Iranian-backed forces have generally avoided attacks on one another because they had a common enemy in ISIS, but ISIS isn't the force it once was. "Rocket attacks over the last two months by Iranian proxies threatened the uneasy peace, and Friday’s deadly strike broke it," writes Julian Barnes. "The key question now is whether the American counterattack tamps down the cycle of violence or escalates it."
(Read more Iran stories.)

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