An Iran-backed Iraqi militant group suspected of killing three US soldiers in a drone strike on a military base in Jordan says it has suspended its attacks on American forces – with President Joe Biden having vowed to respond to the strike.
Kataib Hezbollah, the armed faction of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, issued a statement saying it was planning to “suspend military and security operations against the occupation forces”, referring to the US forces stationed throughout the Middle East.
Concerns have been growing over the spread of violence across the region linked to Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza. That conflict was triggered by an attack by Hamas inside Israel in which around 1,200 people were killed and another 240 taken hostage. Hamas are allied to Iran and another Tehran-supported groups have launched strikes and linked it to the situation in Gaza, where health officials in the Hamas-controlled territory say more than 26,000 people have been killed.
The three US soldiers were killed when a drone hit Tower 22, part of a military base in Jordan, in the early hours of Sunday. Dozens more were injured, as the drone struck while most of the soldiers were asleep in their bunks. It was the first time since 7 October that US soldiers had been killed, though there have been more than 150 attacks across Syria, Iraq and Jordan, as well as on a US-led naval coalition protecting ships in the Red Sea, where the Yemen-based, Iran-backed Houthis have been launching attacks along a key maritime trade route.
Kataib Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi, said: “As we announce the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces - in order to prevent embarrassment of the Iraqi government - we will continue to defend our people in Gaza in other ways.”
His comments come as President Biden said he had finally decided on a response to the deadly drone attack on a US military base near the Syrian border on Sunday, though he dd not provide details.
He did say that the US “doesn’t need a wider war in the Middle East”, echoing comments he and his staff have made consistently since a deadly Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October
Iran, Kataib Hezbollah’s backers, have said it is not in anyone’s interests to open a wider war, but that it would "decisively respond" to any US attack on its territoryu
Kataib Hezbollah took credit for the attack on US soldiers on Sunday – a Pentagon spokesperson said they haven’t confirmed the group’s involvement but it bears their “footprints” – and various officials have said a response is necessary.
After al-Hamidawi announced the suspension of military activity, Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder said the US would respond nonetheless.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “There will be consequences.”
The US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, acknowledged the current volatility of the Middle East in comments on Monday but added that a response to the Jordan attack was likely to be “multi-levelled, come in stages, and be sustained over time”.
“We are going to defend our people,” he said. “We are going to defend our interests.”