- Dramatic pictures showed burning wreck of Wissam Mohammad al-Saadi car
Tensions in the Middle East flared further last night after the US assassination of an Iran-backed militia commander in Iraq.
Dramatic pictures showed the burning wreck of the car that Wissam Mohammed ‘Abu Bakr’ al-Saadi had been travelling in when it was hit by an American drone.
The commander of Kataib Hezbollah’s operations in Syria was killed alongside two other members of the group in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Washington ordered the hit in retaliation for attacks on US troops in the region, but Iraqi authorities have condemned the ‘blatant assassination’ in a residential neighbourhood.
Crowds were seen swarming the vehicle after the strike on Wednesday evening, as local officials warned the attacks could see an end to the US-led coalition in the country.
Wissam Mohammed ‘Abu Bakr’ al-Saadi (pictured) was the commander of Kataib Hezbollah’s operations in Syria
Screengrab shows the burning wreck of Wissam Mohammed ‘Abu Bakr’ al-Saadi’s car
Yehia Rasool, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, said: ‘The international coalition is completely overstepping the reasons and objectives for which it is present on our territory.’
He added: ‘This trajectory compels the Iraqi government more than ever to terminate the mission of this coalition, which has become a factor for instability and threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict.’
Furious crowds chanted ‘Death to America’, ‘America is the biggest devil’, and ‘America, get out of our land’ in Baghdad as they faced dozens of riot police.
‘America needs to be investigated for breaching international law,’ one protester told Sky News.
‘How are they able to attack another country and kill people with impunity?’
The US attack immediately prompted angry demands for retaliation by other pro-Iran fighting groups, which form the so-called Axis of Resistance in Iraq.
Paramilitary outfit Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba warned: ‘This will not be the last [attack] if there is no strict and firm official response from the Iraqi government.’
The US has some 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in neighbouring Syria in a mission to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State.
An American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein triggered a spiral of violence and disorder that continues today.
Pictured, civil defence members gather at the site of the burned vehicle targeted by a U.S. drone strike in east Baghdad
Pictured, a MQ-9 Reaper firing a Hellfire missile. The commander was killed in a drone strike
It came as Israeli troops bombed the southern Gazan city of Rafah yesterday ahead of a planned ground offensive.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to move in troops after rejecting a peace deal offered by Hamas on Wednesday.
Israeli officials have said they cannot end the war before dismantling Hamas’s infrastructure for smuggling weapons over the border, with Rafah a key checkpoint.
Michael Milshtein, a former head of Palestinian affairs for Israeli military intelligence, told The Wall Street Journal: ‘Leaving Rafah an open gate between the world and Gaza means that Hamas immediately will start reconstruction of its military capacities.’
However, Rafah is filled with more than a million refugees and the crossing is also a key route for aid, meaning any attack risks worsening the humanitarian crisis.
Egypt has warned it will end a decades-long truce with Israel if Palestinians attempt to flee across the border.
But despite the turmoil there were positive signs yesterday as peace negotiations were again under way in Cairo.
Hamas indicated it still hopes to discuss a ceasefire despite its initial offer being rejected as ‘bizarre’ by Mr Netanyahu.