TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Friday’s U.S. airstrikes against Iraq’s popular anti-terror forces encourage terrorism in the region, Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani said on Saturday.
Washington said the strikes on positions of the Kataib Hezbollah (KH) group along the Iraq border were in response to rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq, but the force has denied any role in the attacks.
"America’s recent action strengthens and expands the activities of the terrorist Daesh in the region,” Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security council, said in remarks to visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein.
"The attack on anti-terrorist resistance forces is the beginning of a new round of organized terrorism,” he said.
Over the past week, numerous reports had emerged about unusual movements by U.S. troops near the border between Iraq and Syria.
U.S. troops are based across the border in Al-Tanf in Syria, where militants fighting the Syrian government are reportedly trained and armed and used for operations in Iraq and elsewhere.
Over the years, there have been numerous reports about the infiltration of Daesh elements from Syria into Iraq under the protection and logistical assistance of U.S. troops.
Hashd al-Sha’abi and its affiliates, which have been integrated into Iraq’s regular forces, are deployed on the Syrian border and helping the army to stem the movement of terrorists between the two countries.
Suspicious attacks, supposedly against U.S. targets but often with little impact, have escalated over the past year, especially since the Iraqi parliament passed a law that mandated a full withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country.
Experts say the rise in terrorist activities is apparently aimed at creating a sense of insecurity in Iraq and providing a pretext for the U.S. to keep its troops in the country.
Syria’s official news agency SANA on Thursday reported that U.S. military forces planned to transport a new batch of imprisoned Daesh terrorists from the northeastern Syrian province of Hasakah to Al-Tanf.
Hussein, on his second visit to Iran in a month, later met with his Iranian counterpart Muhammad Javad Zarif.
Zarif condemned the "dangerous move” to attack anti-terror forces on the Syrian-Iraqi border, denouncing the raids as violation of the two country’s sovereignty.
He said the attacks as well as the recent events in Iraq are suspicious and that they could be aimed at disrupting Tehran-Baghdad relations as well as security and stability in Iraq.
"We insist that the Iraqi government identify those behind these incidents,” said the top Iranian diplomat.
The Iraqi foreign minister urged both sides to work together closely to further boost mutual relations, saying Baghdad stands ready to expand its relations with Iran.
He touched on progress made over Iran’s access to its funds in Iraq, voicing Baghdad’s readiness to facilitate it.
He also gave assurances that the Iraqi government will not allow the recent incidents in Iraq to affect "very good” relations between the two neighbors.
Hussein was in Iran "to discuss regional developments, including ways to balance relations and avoid tension and escalation” with Iranian officials, according to an Iraqi foreign ministry statement.
An Iraqi official close to Iran said the strikes killed one fighter and wounded four. U.S. officials said they were limited in scope to show President Joe Biden’s administration will avoid a big regional escalation.
Shamkhani said "we will confront the U.S. plan to revive terrorism in the region”.
The airstrikes targeted sites on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier, where anti-terror groups control an important crossing for weapons, personnel and goods.
Iraqi resistance groups on Friday denounced the U.S. airstrikes, calling for an investigation into the assaults.
Qais Khazali, leader of Iraq’s Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq movement, a subdivision of anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha’abi, said the deliberate continuation of the U.S. attacks is in line with the Zionist regime’s interests and to the detriment of the Iraqis.
"We condemn the targeting of the headquarters of Hashd al-Sha’abi, which is performing its task of protecting Iraq’s borders with Syria. This vile act shows the hostile policies of the new US government,” Khazali underlined.
"We emphasize that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq is the only way to achieve stability in the country. The people’s will, political decisions and the strength of the Iraqi resistance are sufficient to realize that goal.”
Hadi al-Amiri, head of Fatah (Conquest) Alliance at the Iraqi parliament called on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to launch an investigation into the deadly U.S. strike as well as the alleged intelligence cooperation between the Iraqi government and the Pentagon.
"Our intelligence indicates that, contrary to Washington’s claims, Hashd al-Sha’abi and not the Iraqi Islamic Resistance in Syria was the target of the attack,” al-Amiri said.
Iraqi lawmaker and Fatah spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi said the U.S. act of aggression killed and injured 30 people.
"The repetition of the U.S. bombing of Hashd al-Sha’abi positions and the barracks belonging to the Iraqi armed forces on the Syrian border is a clear violation of sovereignty and condemned,” he said, urging the Iraqi government, nation and political factions to unite against such attacks.
Iraq’s Al-Nujaba movement warned that the new U.S. crime that targeted the PMU forces will not go unanswered.
Anti-U.S. sentiment has been running high in Iraq following Washington’s assassination of top Iranian anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani and PMU deputy head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis near Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.
In a statement carried by Al-Sumaria television network, Iraq’s Defense Ministry expressed surprise at the U.S. claims about intelligence cooperation with Baghdad prior to Friday’s strike.
It said that Iraq’s ties with the U.S.-led coalition forces are restricted to the fight against the Daesh terrorist group while preserving the country’s independence and sovereignty.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry also rejected the U.S. claims, saying the cooperation with the coalition is only focused on boosting the capabilities of Iraqi security forces in policing works.