US State Department condemns attack on civilians in town north of Baghdad


(CNN)The US State Department on Monday condemned “the massacre of innocent civilians by Iran-backed militias” in an area north of Baghdad and called on the Iraqi government “to immediately exert control over the Iran-backed militias who are lawlessly attacking religious and ethnic minorities, peaceful protesters and activists, political party headquarters, and diplomatic missions.”

The admonition comes after a similar State Department statement Saturday condemning “the attack on the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s branch office in Baghdad by Iran-backed elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces” and as the Trump administration has warned it could shutter its embassy in Baghdad if the Iraqi government fails to stymie the attacks on diplomatic facilities by Iranian-backed forces.

US imposes sweeping new sanctions on Iran's financial sector

In a statement Monday, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said, “The perpetrators of this violence must be brought to justice. The actions of these groups are preventing the international community from helping Iraq and are leading Iraq towards sectarian violence and instability. We urge all parties to act responsibly and work together to help Iraq overcome its economic challenges, security challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to local security forces in Salah al-Din, on Friday a group of armed men believed from an Iran-backed Hashad al-Shabbi paramilitary force in charge of the security in the area snatched 12 men from the predominately Sunni town of al-Farhatah, about 70 miles north of Baghdad. On Saturday morning, residents woke up to find eight of them had been killed and dumped at a farm. The bodies were blindfolded and handcuffed, and had been shot in the head. The four other men are still missing.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited the area in Salah al-Din province Saturday and “witnessed a heinous crime,” a statement from his office said. “The perpetrators wanted to be above the law, but justice will take its course,” the statement added.

    Iraqi security officials said an investigation is underway to determine the group behind the incident. However, Iran-backed Hashad al-Shabbi pointed fingers at ISIS in a statement released Sunday, saying the results of the investigations will reveal the truth.

      Following the destruction of the Kurdistan Democratic Party headquarters in Baghdad, al-Kadhimi held an emergency security meeting in which he called for an investigation into the conduct of Iraqi security forces, which failed to prevent the burning of the facility.

      The Trump administration has reiterated to Iraqi leaders at multiple levels its threat to close the US Embassy in Baghdad if Iranian-backed militia attacks targeting US personnel in the country don’t subside, demonstrating the seriousness of the consideration, three US officials told CNN in late September.

      CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.