Explosions occurred in the central part of the city, rattling windows and prompting Iraqi authorities to close off streets nearby. Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, a militia that has claimed several attacks on U.S. forces, said in a statement that its deputy commander of operations in the Baghdad region, Mushtaq Jawad Al-Saidi, known as Abu Taqwa, was killed in a strike at a logistical support headquarters on Palestine Street.

When nearby residents learned that the blast that ripped through their morning was the sound of an American bombing, they said that fears of further violence began to gnaw at them. “It’s an indication that peace is not lasting,” said Sarah Jamal, 27, who lived several blocks from the strike. “It started in Syria, then Lebanon, then Iran and now here. We’re being dragged into this, and we have no say.”

The site of an apparent U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on Thursday. Sarmad Salim for The Washington Post

While the U.S. has targeted militia-linked locations in Iraq and Syria several times in recent months, an American operation in such a central location of Iraq’s capital is exceedingly rare. The Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba group falls under the command of the Iraqi army, which responded swiftly, and in anger, to the strike, saying that it undermined agreements between Baghdad and Washington.

In a statement, the Defense Department described the strike as “necessary and proportionate,” saying the slain commander was “actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel.”

Photographs released by Sabereen News, a militia-run outlet, reveal weapons fragments consistent with the U.S.-made Joint Air-to-Ground Missile, or JAGM, a new missile fielded by U.S. aircraft that is set to replace older munitions such as the Hellfire. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the images’ authenticity.

Black smoke rose from residential alleys in the location of the strikes, with blood and human remains scattered. Some residents nearby cried. Others promised revenge against the United States. “No American soldier shall stay in Iraq!” one man yelled, firing his gun into the air. About 2,500 U.S. personnel are based in the country, ostensibly to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State terrorist network. Another 900 are spread across several outposts in Syria.

The Biden administration says it is working to limit the regional fallout from Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, which has more than 22,000 people dead in the three months since Hamas militants killed 1,200 in attacks throughout Israeli border communities. U.S. diplomatic envoy Amos Hochstein visited Lebanon Wednesday

Yet Washington’s support for Israel’s actions as Palestinian civilian casualties mount has presented local militia groups in Iraq and Syria with fresh incentive to try to dislodge U.S.-led coalition troops. U.S. officials have logged at least 115 attacks on U.S. forces since Oct. 17, with most carried out with one-way attack drones, rockets or both.

Late last month, after a militia attack in northern Iraq that left a U.S. service member in critical condition, the Pentagon launched retaliatory strikes and said they likely killed a number of militants. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani, who last year backed the need for U.S. troops in Iraq to prevent the regeneration of the Islamic State, said the U.S. retaliation killed one Iraqi service member and injured 18 others, including civilians.

The U.S.-backed coalition, which still has several hundred troops based in Iraq, could not be immediately reached for comment early Thursday. But the attack was likely to increase pressure on the Iraqi government to hasten an end to the coalition’s presence, two and a half years after their combat mission officially ended there.

Iraq’s military spokesman Yahya Rasool Abdullah described the strike as “no different from terrorist acts” and said that the army held the U.S.-led coalition responsible for an attack on a group that fell under its command.

“We consider this targeting a dangerous escalation and an assault on Iraq, far from the spirit and text of the authorization and the work for which the international coalition exists in Iraq,” Abdullah said in a statement.

The question of ongoing U.S. troop presence has been under discussion as part of a joint dialogue between Iraqi and American officials. While al-Sudani’s government favors an arrangement that sets the two nations on even footing, rather than one that gives the appearance of continuing to host a military that invaded the country two decades earlier, Washington has been wary of fully withdrawing from one of its most high profile theaters at a time of growing regional tensions.

The attack on Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba targets occurred almost four years to the day that President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Iran’s most influential military strategist, Maj. Gen Qasem Soleimani, as he left Baghdad’s airport with his Iraqi counterpart, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

It was a decision that pushed Iran and the United States to the brink of all-out war on Iraqi soil, as Tehran launched ballistic missiles against U.S. troops, and an incandescent Iraqi parliament voted in favor of America’s expulsion.

In a statement Thursday, Qais al-Khazali, who heads the influential Iran-linked Asaib al-Haq militia, implored Sudani’s government to finish the job this time.

“While acknowledging that statements and condemnations no longer hold relevance in the face of repeated crimes and violations, we urge the Iraqi government to take decisive steps to end the presence of the so-called international coalition in Iraq,” he said. This would involve “cutting off the pretexts used by the Americans to prolong their stay on our land and in our skies.”

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