Rubbles and debris from the US Airstrikes, courtesy of Reuters

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U.S. airstrikes on Iraq and Syria overnight Friday killed at least 39 people and injured several dozen others, hitting more than 85 targets linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and related militias in the first of a series of retaliatory moves following last weekend’s drone strike in Jordan that killed three US Army soldiers and injured dozens more.

The successful strikes left Tehran fuming about “violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and drew condemnation from Iraq and Syria.

The move also represented a significant escalation of the conflict in the Middle East related to Israel’s nearly four-months of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

An initial battle damage assessment found the U.S. hit each of its planned targets, along with a few “dynamic targets” that popped up as the mission unfolded, including a surface-to-air missile site and drone launch sites, a U.S. official said Saturday.

“The facilities that were struck included command and control operations, centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aired vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

“This is the start of our response,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a separate statement.

“The president has directed additional actions to hold the IRGC and affiliated militias accountable for their attacks on U.S. and Coalition Forces,” Austin said. “We will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our forces, and our interests.”

The U.S. is also moving on the diplomatic front, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to the region for another round of talks aimed at securing a ceasefire.

His fifth trip to the Middle East since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Southern Israel will take him to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank.

Reports said the secretary of state will be proposing a “grand bargain” deal involving normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and “substantial movement” toward the recognition of a Palestinian state, along with other diplomatic and economic offerings from Washington.

But Syria’s foreign ministry said the strikes will worsen the situation in the region. “What [the US] committed has served to fuel conflict in the Middle East in a very dangerous way,” the ministry said in a statement.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani went further, calling the strikes “another adventurous and strategic mistake by the United States that will result only in increased tension in instability in the region.”

The three US soldiers who were killed in Jordan, from left to right: Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett.
The three US soldiers who were killed in Jordan: Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett.AP

Friday’s strikes were meant “to overshadow the Zionist regime’s crimes in Gaza,” Kanaani insisted. The “root cause of tensions and crises in the Middle East is Israel’s occupation and genocide of Palestinians with America’s unlimited support,” he added.

Kanaani also urged the UN Security Council to prevent further “illegal and unilateral U.S. attacks in the region.” He did not say whether Iran would respond to the escalation.

Before the U.S. retaliation, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Iran would not start a war, but would “respond strongly to anyone who tries to bully it.”

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