Iraq condemned overnight U.S. airstrikes on Friday, saying they killed six people and warning of dangerous consequences for what it called a violation of sovereignty and targeted aggression against the nation’s regular armed forces.
President Barham Salih said repeated such violations could cause Iraq to unravel into a failed state and revive the Islamic State militant group. Iraq’s foreign ministry announced plans to bring a complaint to the United Nations.
The United States defended the airstrikes, saying all five targets were legitimate and stored Iranian-supplied weapons used by the Kataib Hezbollah militia to attack the U.S.-led coalition. Washington launched the strikes in retaliation for a rocket attack on Wednesday on a base north of Baghdad that killed U.S. and British troops.
“These locations that we struck are clear locations of terrorist bases,” said Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the U.S. military’s Central Command.
“If Iraqis were there and if Iraqi military forces were there, I would say it’s probably not a good idea to position yourself with Kataib Hezbollah in the wake of a strike that killed Americans and coalition members,” he told a Pentagon news briefing.
The Iraqi military warned the airstrikes would have consequences while the foreign ministry said it summoned the U.S. and British ambassadors.
Long-standing antagonism between the United States and Iran have mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months, stoking deep-seated tensions between elements of Iraqi society who oppose the U.S. military presence and those who see U.S.-led coalition support as vital to preventing the resurgence of Islamic State militants.
McKenzie said the death toll from the strike appeared limited. Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement that three soldiers, two policemen and one civilian were killed, according to an initial toll, and that four soldiers, two policemen, a civilian, and five militiamen were injured.
“The pretext that this attack came as a response to the aggression that targeted the Taji base is a false pretext; one that leads to escalation and does not provide a solution,” Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement.
The civilians killed and wounded were construction workers at an airport building site in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Kerbala, Iraqi religious authorities said.
McKenzie acknowledged that a structure had been hit near the Kerbala airfield but said it was being used to store weapons.
“That was a clear target,” he said.