A United States airstrike targeted an Iraqi militia late Friday north of Baghdad, Iraqi state TV said, almost exactly 24 hours after top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was killed in an American strike in the country. U.S. sources, however, deny that the United States was behind the strike, and the Iraqi military denies that such an attack took place at all.
The state TV did not name the militia or provide further details, but Iraqi army sources said five to six people were killed in the airstrike that targeted Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella grouping of Iran-backed Shi'ite militias.
Iraq's military denied that an air strike took place on a medical convoy in Taji, north of Baghdad.
An American official who spoke to AP on the condition on anonymity denied the United States was behind the reported attack. The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State said also said it did not conduct any air strikes near Camp Taji.
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"FACT: the coalition @cjtfoir did not conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days," a spokesman said on Twitter.
The Popular Mobilization Forces said on Saturday that the airstrike hit a convoy of medics, not senior leaders as reported in some media, before recanting.
"Initial sources confirm that the strike targeted a convoy of Popular Mobilization Forces medics near Taji stadium in Baghdad," it said in a statement. The Popular Mobilization Forces later issued another statement, saying that no medical convoys were targeted in Taji.
Two of the three vehicles making up a militia convoy were found burned, an Iraqi source told Reuters, adding that the strikes took place at 1:12 A.M. local time.
The death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, marks a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.
The targeted strike against Soleimani and any retaliation by Iran, could ignite a conflict that engulfs the whole region, endangering U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
Over the last two decades, Soleimani had assembled a network of heavily armed allies stretching all the way to southern Lebanon, on Israel’s doorstep.