Iraq warns Middle East is on ‘brink of the abyss’ after US revenge strikes

The Iraqi government has warned that the Middle East is “on the brink of the abyss” after retaliatory US airstrikes reportedly killed dozens of soldiers and civilians.

On Friday, the US carried out strikes on 85 targets at seven facilities in Iraq and Syria in response to a drone attack at a remote base in Jordan that killed three American service members and injured around 40 others on 28 January.

The US strikes killed almost 40 people, according to a Reuters report. Shortly after the attack, Iraqi government spokesperson, Bassem Al-Awadi, warned that the attacks risked destabilizing the entire Middle East.

“This aggressive strike will put security in Iraq and the region on the brink of the abyss, and it also contradicts efforts to establish the required stability,” he wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter, in the early hours of Saturday.

Mr Awadi claimed that the US “deliberately deceived and falsified the facts, by announcing prior coordination to commit this aggression, which is a false claim aimed at misleading international public opinion and disavowing legal responsibility for this rejected crime in accordance with all international laws”.

The US strikes took place over the course of half an hour, and several were carried out by B-1B bombers flying more than 6,000 miles from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, NBC News reported.

Members of Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces clean the rubble after a US airstrike in al-Qaim on February 3 2024 (AP)
Members of Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces clean the rubble after a US airstrike in al-Qaim on February 3 2024 (AP)

Three American soldiers were killed in Jordan last week during an attack on US and coalition forces by Iran-backed militias, the US government said.

The bodies of Sgt William Jerome Rivers, Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders, and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, all from Georgia, were returned to the US on Friday. President Joe Biden took part in the dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, said on Friday that the US airstrike targets were chosen based on intelligence that connected them to attacks against American troops, according to Axios.

Earlier this week, the US retaliated for attacks on international shipping vessels in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels in Yemen. A government official said that the US struck up to 10 unmanned drones in Yemen that were about to launch, Voice of America reported on Wednesday.

Following Friday’s US air strikes, the Iraqi foreign ministry called the American embassy in Baghdad to “deliver an official note of protest regarding the American attack that targeted military and civilian sites in the Akashat and Al-Qaim regions yesterday evening,” the Iraqi News Agency reported.

Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani, also claimed that it was “lies” that the US had given his country advanced warning about the strikes.

The US contradicted this claim. “It wasn’t a huge heads up,” a US official told NBC News. “But it is not accurate to say they weren’t informed.”

After the strikes, US defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, said that President Biden had directed further actions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and its linked militia groups.

However, he also said that the US isn’t seeking “conflict in the Middle East”.

“This is the start of our response,” Mr Austin said in a statement. “We do not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else, but the president and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces.”

Officials in Iraq and Syria said that those killed included soldiers as well as civilians. An Iraqi military spokesperson said that the strikes were a “threat that will drag Iraq and the region into unforeseen consequences”.

Hussein al-Mosawi, a spokesperson for Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the main Iraqi militia groups backed by Iran, told the Associated Press that the US “must understand that every action elicits a reaction”.

However, he added that “we do not wish to escalate or widen regional tensions” and that the sites struck in Iraq were mostly “devoid of fighters and military personnel at the time of the attack”. Such comments could provide cover if the group chooses not to launch a major counterattack.

Iran Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanaani, said that the retaliatory action was a “strategic mistake” that would only lead to an “escalation of tension and instability in the region”.

Violence has flared across the Middle East since the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling Gaza, which killed 1,200 people and saw 240 people abducted. Hamas has been designated as a terror organisation by the US and the EU.

Israel’s response in Gaza has killed more than 27,000 people and left more than 66,000 people wounded, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry.

Arab nations have taken action to show support for Gaza. Late last year, there were widespread protests in Casablanca, Algiers, Tunis, Cairo, Amman, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and Manama in support of the Palestinians. Many protesters in Arab nations have called on their governments to do more to push back against Israel.