Islamic Resistance in Iraq ‘behind strike that killed three US troops in Jordan’

The United States has attributed the drone attack that killed three US service members in Jordan to the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias, as President Joe Biden weighs his response options to the strike.

The attribution comes as Iran threatened on Wednesday to “decisively respond” to any US attack on the Islamic Republic after the US said it holds Tehran responsible.

The US has signalled it is preparing for retaliatory strikes in the Middle East in the wake of the Sunday drone attack that also wounded at least 40 troops at Tower 22, a secretive base in north-eastern Jordan that has been crucial to the American presence in neighbouring Syria.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US believes the attack was planned, resourced and facilitated by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group that includes the militant group Kataib Hezbollah.

He said Mr Biden “believes that it is important to respond in an appropriate way”.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Mr Kirby dismissed a statement by Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah announcing “the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government”.

He said that the group cannot be taken at face value, and he added, “they’re not the only group that has been attacking us”.

Any additional American strikes could further inflame a region already stirred by Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The war began with Hamas attacking Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage. Since then, Israeli strikes have killed more than 26,000 Palestinians and displaced nearly two million others from their homes, arousing anger throughout the Muslim world.

Violence has erupted across the Middle East, with Iran striking targets in Iraq, Pakistan and Syria, and the US carrying out airstrikes targeting Yemen’s Houthi rebels over their attacks shipping in the Red Sea.

Some observers fear a new round of strikes targeting Iran could tip the region into a wider war.

A US Navy destroyer in the waterway shot down an anti-ship cruise missile launched by the Houthis on late Tuesday, the latest attack targeting American forces patrolling the key maritime trade route, officials said.

The US later launched a new round of airstrikes targeting the Houthis.

The Iranian warnings first came from Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York. He gave a briefing to Iranian journalists late on Tuesday, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

“The Islamic Republic would decisively respond to any attack on the county, its interests and nationals under any pretexts,” IRNA quoted Mr Iravani as saying. He described any possible Iranian retaliation as a “strong response,” without elaborating.

The Iranian mission to the UN did not respond to requests for comment or elaboration on Wednesday on Mr Iravani’s remarks.

Mr Iravani also denied that Iran and the US had exchanged any messages over the last few days, either through intermediaries or directly.

The pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, which is based in and funded by Qatar, reported earlier that such communication had taken place. Qatar often serves as an intermediary between Washington and Tehran.

“Such messages have not been exchanged,” Mr Iravani said.

But Iran’s government has taken note of the US threats of retaliation for the attack on the base in Jordan.

“Sometime, our enemies raise the threat, and nowadays we hear some threats in between words by American officials,” Revolutionary Guard commander Gen Hossein Salami, who answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said at an event on Wednesday.

“We tell them that you have experienced us, and we know each other. We do not leave any threat without an answer.”

“We are not after war, but we have no fear of war,” he added, according to IRNA.

On Saturday, a general in charge of Iran’s air defences described them as being at their “highest defensive readiness”.

That raises concerns for commercial aviation travelling through and over Iran as well. After a US drone strike killed a top general in 2020, Iranian air defences mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board.

Meanwhile, attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels continue in the Red Sea, most recently targeting a US warship. The missile launched Tuesday night targeted the USS Gravely, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the US military’s Central Command said in a statement. No injuries or damage were reported.

A Houthi military spokesman, Brig Gen Yahya Saree, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Wednesday morning, calling it “a victory for the oppression of the Palestinian people and a response to the American-British aggression against our country”.

Mr Saree claimed the Houthis fired “several” missiles, something not acknowledged by the US Navy. Houthi claims have been exaggerated in the past, and their missiles sometimes crash on land and fail to reach their targets.

The Houthis claimed without evidence on Monday to have targeted the USS Lewis B Puller, a floating landing base used by the Navy Seals and others. The US said there had been no attack.

On Wednesday, a US military jet struck a surface-to-air missile that was about to launch from Houthi-controlled Yemen, a US official said.

The missile was deemed an immediate threat and destroyed. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details ahead of a public announcement.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea over Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel.

The Houthis hit a commercial vessel with a missile on Friday, sparking a fire that burned for hours.

The US and the United Kingdom have launched multiple rounds of airstrikes targeting the Houthis as allied warships patrol the waterways affected by the attacks.

The European Union also plans to launch a naval mission in the Red Sea within three weeks to help defend cargo ships against the Houthi attacks, the bloc’s top diplomat said Wednesday.

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