KEY POINTS

  • Airstrike on Friday hit convoy of Shibl al-Zaydi, leader of Imam Ali Brigade militia
  • Al-Zaydi was a financial coordinator between Quds Force and Popular Mobilisation Forces
  • It is not confirmed who carried out the strike
  • State Department asks all U.S. citizens to leave Iraq immediately
  • Airlines halting flights in and out of Baghdad
     

An airstrike hit a convoy of the Iranian-backed Hashd Shaabi militia in the Taji area north of Baghdad, likely killing its leader Shibl al-Zaydi, local reports said. 

The strike, coming a day after an U.S. airstrike killed Iranian Quds Force top commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani, occurred north of Baghdad late on Friday night, reports said. A few other members of the militia were also killed but were not identified.

But the U.S.-led coalition to deafeat the Islamic State said it did not conduct the airstrike in Taji. The strike took place at 1:12 a.m. local time, Reuters reported quoting an unnamed Iraqi army source.

Multiple sources, who are part of the ongoing operation in Iraq, confirmed to International Business Times that Shibl al-Zaydi's convoy was targeted.

A resident of the norther area of the Iraqi capital, who identified himself only as Shaleh for safety reasons, told International Business Times that U.S. forces have been rounding up some of the militia leaders. Those detained were been led away and "gone like ghosts." 

"The people are happy to see them leave. Don't let the [Iraqi] government's lies fool you, the U.S. are heroes for Iraq," he said. 

The Hashd, or the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), is an umbrella group of Shiite militia organizations fighting the Islamic State. Most of these militias are Iranian-backed and financed. Al-Zaydi was secretary general of the Kata'ib al-Imam Ali Brigade and a financial coordinator betwen the Hashd and the Quds Force, reports said.

Senior Shiite commanders Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Mohammed Redha Al-Jabri of the Popular Mobilisation Forces were killed Thursday in the U.S. strike that killed Gen. Soleiman.

It is not immediately clear if American aircraft had carried out Friday's convoy attack. President Trump had earlier justified the decision to eliminate Gen. Soleiman, saying the latter was plotting "imminent and sinister attacks" on Americans.

The Iranians had vowed "severe vengeance... in the right place and time" for Gen. Soleimani's killing. It is not immediately known if the PMF convoy targeted Friday was part of any plot to attack American interests.

The group has denied that its senior leaders were targeted, only claiming a medical convoy may have been hit. 

Following the targeted killing of Gen. Soleiman, some airlines have started suspending operations in and out of Baghdad airport, citing the security situation, reports said. Gulf Air and Royal Jordanian have already suspended flights. Other are expected to follow.

The State Department had asked all U.S. citizens to leave Iraq after Thursday's airstrike.