BAGHDAD (Dispatches) -- The leader of an Iraqi anti-terror group has vowed to retaliate against America for the martyrdom of four of his men in a U.S. airstrike along the Iraq-Syria border last month, saying it will be a military operation everyone will talk about.
Abu Alaa al-Walae, commander of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad that the electoral victory of Iran’s judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi as president will strengthen resistance groups throughout the Middle East for the next four years.
On June 27, U.S. Air Force planes carried out airstrikes near the Iraq-Syria border against what the Pentagon said were facilities used by militia groups to support drone strikes inside Iraq. Four fighters and a civilian were martyred.
The Popular Mobilization Forces said their men were on missions to prevent infiltration by the Daesh group and denied the presence of weapons warehouses.
U.S. troops in eastern Syria came under rocket fire the day after the airstrikes, with no reported casualties.
The U.S. has blamed anti-terror groups for attacks — most of them rocket strikes — that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and military bases across Iraq. More recently, the attacks have become more sophisticated, using drones.
U.S. military officials have grown increasingly alarmed over drone strikes targeting U.S. military bases in Iraq, more common since a U.S. drone martyred Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi anti-terror leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also martyred in the attack. The strike drew the ire of Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.
In mid-April, an explosives-laden drone targeted the military section of the international airport in Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region. The base also hosts American troops.
The bearded al-Walae, wearing a black shirt and trousers and an olive-green baseball cap, hinted that his fighters might use drones in future attacks.
“We want an operation that befits those martyrs,” he said referring to the four fighters martyred in late June. “Even if it comes late, time is not important.”
“We want it to be an operation in which everyone says they have taken revenge on the Americans,” al-Walae said. “It will be a qualitative operation (that could come) from the air, the sea, along Iraq’s border, in the region or anywhere. It’s an open war.”
Al-Walae spoke in an office decorated with a poster of Gen. Soleimani, the AP reported. On a table next to him, a framed photo shows al-Walae standing next to Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
Al-Walae praised Iran’s new president, Raisi, who is scheduled to take office next month, saying resistance groups “will have their best times.”
Days after he was elected last month, Raisi said in his first remarks after the vote that he rejects the possibility of meeting with President Joe Biden or negotiating Tehran’s ballistic missile program and support of regional resistance groups.
Al-Walae, who was once held prisoner by U.S. troops in Iraq, said that his men were among the first to go to neighboring Syria to fight alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces in 2012, a year after the war there broke out. He said their first mission was to protect a Shia holy shrine south of the capital, Damascus. They later fought in different parts of Syria.
Fighters from throughout the region have joined Syria’s battle, helping tip the balance of power against foreign-backed terrorists. Thousands of resistance fighters remain in Syria, many of them deployed close to the Iraqi border in the towns of Boukamal and Mayadeen.