Kataib Hezbollah announces halt of attacks on US forces

Iraq-based group seeks to de-escalate as Washington mulls response to deadly Jordan strike.

A Kataib Hezbollah flag is held up during a protest outside the US embassy in Baghdad
Kataib Hezbollah is the most powerful element in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which has claimed more than 150 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria since October 7 [File: Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters]

Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah has announced the suspension of hostile operations against US troops as Washington ponders its response to a deadly drone attack that killed three of its soldiers.

The group’s attempt to de-escalate late on Tuesday, which it said was motivated by a desire not to “embarrass” the Iraqi government, was met with some scepticism in the United States. The Pentagon alleges that there have been three further attacks since the attack in Jordan on January 28.

However, the White House has indicated that it is pondering a “tiered response” to Sunday’s attack.

Speaking on Tuesday in Washington, DC, Biden tied the attacks to Iran.

“I do hold them responsible in the sense that they’re supplying the weapons to the people who did it,” he said.

However, he specified he did not want “a wider war” in the region.

However, Al Jazeera correspondent Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, DC, said Republican hawks were calling for strikes inside Iran.

“For months, this administration has been saying the biggest concern they have is that this will lead to a wider war, and it seems fairly clear that striking inside of Iran would make it more likely rather than less,” she said.

Iran has responded with its own hawkish rhetoric. On Wednesday, a statement from Hossein Salami, chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, reiterated threats that Tehran will respond in kind should the US take any action against it.

“We hear threats coming from American officials, we tell them that they have already tested us and we now know one another, no threat will be left unanswered,” he said, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Powerful element

Kataib Hezbollah is the most powerful element in a group called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which has claimed more than 150 attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria since October 7.

The US has so far responded to that campaign by conducting air raids and imposing sanctions against Iran-backed groups in Iraq, particularly Kataib Hezbollah.

In its statement on Tuesday, Kataib Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi noted that many of its allies, in particular Iran, “often object to the pressure and escalation against the American occupation forces in Iraq and Syria”.

Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said the statement aimed to “alleviate or reduce the burden, the pressure that the government in Iraq has been facing since … the beginning of these attacks”.

The Iraqi government, he said, has been engaged in talks with US military officials to find mechanisms guaranteeing the withdrawal of US and coalition troops from the country.

Hawks apply pressure

In the face of Biden’s caution over the US response to the attack in Jordan, hawkish members of the Republican Party have gone into overdrive as they appeal for more direct military action against Iran.

Senator Lindsey Graham called on the Biden administration to “strike targets of significance inside Iran, not only as reprisal for the killing of our forces but as deterrence against future aggression”.

Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for “striking directly against Iranian targets and its leadership”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies