- By Orla Guerin & Hugo Bachega
- BBC News, Baghdad
A senior commander of a pro-Iranian militia was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
The head of Kataib Hezbollah and two of his bodyguards were in a vehicle when a vehicle was targeted east of the Iraqi capital. All three of them died.
The Pentagon said the commander was responsible for directing attacks on US forces in the region.
The United States has linked the militants to a drone attack in Jordan last month that killed three American troops.
In the wake of that attack, Hezbollah said it was suspending attacks on US troops to prevent “humiliation” for the Iraqi government.
A drone strike struck the Mashtal area of Baghdad on Wednesday night, causing several loud explosions.
It's a precision strike on a moving vehicle on a busy street, and the car bursts into flames.
One of the dead has been identified as Abu Bakr al-Saadi, a senior Hezbollah commander.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the attack took place at 21:30 local time (18:30 GMT) and killed “the commander directly responsible for planning and participating in attacks on US forces in the region”.
“There are currently no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties,” the CENTCOM statement said.
When a BBC team reached the scene, protesters gathered and chanted: “America is the biggest devil.”
There was a heavy police presence, along with SWAT teams from Iraq's Ministry of Interior.
A BBC crew tried to get close to the burning vehicle, but onlookers insisted journalists were not welcome.
“You foreigners,” shouted one, adding, “Foreigners are to blame.”
Crowds of people flocked to protest the heavily guarded US embassy.
The raid comes days after the US launched 85 strikes in Syria and Iraq in response to a January 28 drone attack on US troops.
President Joe Biden described last Friday's wave of attacks as the beginning of a US response.
The drone strike in the Iraqi capital will be seen as a major escalation in the US response. Previous attacks have only targeted the Iraq-Syria border region.
But US strategy inevitably includes targeting not only the infrastructure used by the groups, but also their senior leaders.
After Wednesday's attack, militants in the country called on the United States to retaliate.
US forces have been hit by daily rocket and drone attacks since Israel's Gaza war began on October 7.
On January 4, the United States launched an airstrike in Baghdad against the leader of Harakat al-Nujaba.
The United States has about 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in neighboring Syria to fight the Islamic State terror group.
Additional reporting by Shankar Khalil and Max Matsa