At least 16 people have been killed in US strikes in Iraq, the government said, as it condemned the “new aggression against” its sovereignty.
Civilians were among the fatalities, and 25 people were wounded in the bombings that targeted both civilian and security areas, a government spokesperson said on Saturday.
The United States warned of more retaliatory strikes after it hit Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria overnight in response to an attack that killed American soldiers in Jordan amid Israel’s war on Gaza.
“This aggressive strike will put security in Iraq and the region on the brink of the abyss,” the Iraqi government said, and denied Washington’s claims of coordinating the airstrikes with Baghdad as “false” and “aimed at misleading international public opinion”.
Syria accused Washington of backing “terrorism”.
The strikes did not take place inside Iranian territory. Reporting from Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar said there was no official reaction yet from Iranian authorities and they were likely “going through a damage assessment process”.
US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told journalists that the goal of the “multitiered” attacks Washington had said it would conduct was to stop attacks by Iran-aligned groups, and not to start a war with Iran.
President Joe Biden said the strikes “will continue at times and places of our choosing” as his chief diplomat Antony Blinken is preparing to embark on his fifth regional tour since October 7 from Sunday, visiting Israel, the occupied West Bank, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said it flew bombers from the US and used more than 125 precision munitions to hit more than 85 targets that included command and control operations centres, intelligence centres, weapons storage and supply chain facilities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the armed groups backed by Tehran.
Syrian state media reported several casualties after the strikes in the country’s desert region and border areas with Iraq.
The Syrian Ministry of Defence slammed the “aggression of the American occupation forces”, which it said had “no justification other than an attempt to weaken the ability of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies in the field of fighting terrorism”, adding that the areas targeted were the same where the military is fighting remnants of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group.
Iraqi security sources told Al Jazeera that six air strikes targeted a number of locations in the country.
The United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 18 Iran-aligned fighters were killed in the Syria attacks, but it could not be independently verified.
Videos circulating online purportedly show rocket storage sites belonging to Tehran-aligned armed groups being hit in Iraq.
No Iranians believed killed
Even though Washington said all its intended targets were supported by the Quds Force command of the IRGC, no Iranian personnel are believed to have been killed.
The US took nearly a week to act after three of its soldiers were killed in a drone attack on the Tower 22 base near the Syria-Jordan border to strike back, and continued to leak information to the media prior to the overnight strikes.
The attack on the US base had been claimed by the coalition of forces known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which views US troops as “occupying forces” and has demanded an end to Israel’s deadly war on Gaza.
While Iraq was still assessing the damage from the air raids, it said they “undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, and pose a threat that could lead Iraq and the region into dire consequences”, even as the White House claimed it informed the Iraqi government before the attacks.
Yahya Rasool, the Iraqi military spokesperson, added that “the outcomes will have severe implications on the security and stability in Iraq and the surrounding region”.
Iran, which, Washington suspects of supplying the weapons that hit the American soldiers in Tower 22 but not of ordering the attack, has maintained that members of the “axis of resistance” that it supports across the region act independently.
Reporting from Baghdad, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said on Saturday that the Iraqi resistance, which includes Iran-aligned groups, carried out attacks, with missiles targeting the al-Tanf military base in Syria that is home to US personnel, as well as the Ain al-Assad base in western Iraq.
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which had announced the suspension of hostile operations against US troops this week, said it “attacked the American occupation’s Harir base in Erbil” in northern Iraq with an unspecified number of drones on Saturday.
It said in a statement that the attack comes in resisting “American occupation forces” in Iraq and across the region, and in standing up to Israel’s war on Gaza.
Gaza ‘key’ to stopping escalations
The Biden administration’s actions triggered dissatisfied reactions from US politicians who have demanded stronger and faster attacks, including direct strikes on Iranian soil, despite concerns that such a move would lead to an all-out war.
Mike Johnson, the Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, accused the president of “placating” Tehran after the strikes, and said: “To promote peace, America must project strength.”
But the same US politicians are refusing to mention the Gaza war that has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, as being a key link in the chain of more than 150 attacks that have been directed at US bases in Iraq and Syria since last October.
“I’m not surprised there has been this reprisal and retaliation by the United States,” HA Hellyer, a military analyst at the UK-based think tank Royal United Services Institute, told Al Jazeera, adding that if the US wants to de-escalate and not go to war with Iran the key to that is Gaza.
Washington has “failed to apply any real leverage in order to bring a ceasefire to Gaza, which I think would really diminish the tensions in the region and remove the fuel for this sort of escalation taking place, which is likely to continue over the coming days and weeks and beyond”, he added.