BAGHDAD — Iraqi military officials strongly condemned the United States military on Friday for airstrikes launched overnight that they said killed three Iraqi soldiers, two police officers and a civilian worker, and damaged an unfinished civilian airport.
According to news reports, an airport under construction in Iraq’s central Karbala province was hit in a US bombing raid on militias, with photos showing debris scattered across the site. The US said earlier the strikes were “precise” and defensive.
Photos have emerged online showing the Karbala International Airport, expected to be Iraq’s largest airport once completed, having been crippled by the US airstrike on Thursday night.
In a statement on Friday, the Iraqi Joint Command described the American airstrikes as “an aggression” that “targeted Iraqi military institutions violating the principal of partnership” between the Iraqi security forces and the Americans.
This attack “cost the lives of Iraqi fighters while they were doing their military duty,” the statement said.
American officials said Friday that the strikes had hit five sites where rockets and other weapons were stored by an Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah. But according to multiple Iraqi military officials, who until now had been largely supportive of the U.S. role in Iraq, the bombings killed members of the Iraqi military and police.
American officials said Kataib Hezbollah fighters were also killed in the airstrikes but they could not yet say how many.
The strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack on Wednesday that killed two Americans and a British soldier and wounded 14 others at Camp Taji, an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad, American officials said.
At a news conference at the Pentagon on Friday, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the military’s Central Command, said the American strikes were in self-defense to destroy rockets and other weapons that he said had been supplied by Iran and that could be used against American and allied troops in Iraq.
He said one of the five sites attacked was a weapons storage site at an airfield in Karbala, south of Baghdad, which had been destroyed.
The Iraqi military statement said the airport that was hit was “totally civilian” and all workers there were civilians.
In Karbala, officials involved in the airport’s construction said that an airport worker was killed and several others were wounded.
The man who was killed, Karrar Sabbar, was 23 years old and left behind a wife and two children. He worked as a guard, sleeping in one of the airport’s halls or one of the administrative buildings.
Witnesses including foreign media reporters noted that while the damage from the strikes was clear nothing appeared to have been burned, not even the papers that were in one of the administrative office areas that were hit.
If the facility had been used for ammunition storage, it would have been likely to have caused a fire.