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Powerful Iran-backed militia in Iraq to suspend military ops against US forces in region

<i>Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters/File</i><br/>
Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters/File

By Mohammed Tawfeeq, Oren Liebermann and Aqeel Najim, CNN

(CNN) — In a surprise move, the most powerful Iran-backed militia in Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah, announced on Tuesday the suspension of its military operations against US forces in the region two days after a drone attack killed three US service members and wounded dozens of others.

“We are announcing the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces (US troops) – in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government,” Kataib Hezbollah said in a statement.

“We will continue to defend our people in Gaza in other ways, and we recommend to the brave Mujahideen of the Free Hezbollah Brigades to [carry out] passive defense (temporarily) if any hostile American action occurs towards them.”

The group is considered the most powerful armed faction in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias in the country. The US holds Iran broadly responsible for arming and supporting these groups and has specifically singled out Kataib Hezbollah as likely to have carried out the deadly attack on Sunday.

Asked about the statement, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a briefing Tuesday, “We’ve seen those reports. I don’t have a specific comment to provide other than actions speak louder than words.”

“I don’t think we could be any more clear that we have called on the Iranian proxy groups to stop their attacks. They have not. And so we will respond in a time and manner of our choosing,” Ryder said.

The US has carried out a series of strikes in Iraq and Syria since the start of the war in Gaza targeting Kataib Hezbollah and other groups in response to attacks on US interests in the region in recent months. Even so, the attacks have persisted. US troops in the Middle East have come under attack approximately 166 times since October, US officials said.

Ryder said he was aware of three attacks since the deadly drone strike that killed three US service members in Jordan.

Kataib Hezbollah also tried to distance Iran from their almost daily attacks in Iraq and Syria since October 17, saying they have carried out the attacks at their “own will, and without any interference from others.”

“On the contrary, our brothers in the axis – especially in the Islamic Republic – do not know how we work jihad, and they often object to the pressure and escalation against the American occupation forces in Iraq and Syria,” the group added in the statement.

The motive behind the group’s decision is unclear, but an adviser to the Iraqi prime minister said the prime minister’s efforts have paid off.

“This is the result of the efforts made by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani internally and externally with different forces and parties in Iraq, and calls made by the Iraqi government to avoid escalation and avoid causing more tension to ensure the smoothness of the negotiation process and in order to complete the withdrawal (of US troops) from Iraq,” the adviser, Hisham Al-Rikabi, told CNN on Tuesday in reaction to Kataib Hezbollah’s announcement.

The US and Iraq are expected to soon begin talks on the future of the US military presence in the country, amid public calls from the Iraqi government for the US to withdraw its troops, CNN reported last week.

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