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Iraq's Kataib Hezbollah says it suspends attacks on US forces

FILE PHOTO: Kataib Hezbollah militia group's flag

By Timour Azhari

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iran-aligned Iraqi armed group Kataib Hezbollah announced on Tuesday the suspension of all its military operations against U.S. troops in the region, in a decision aimed at preventing "embarrassment" of the Iraqi government, the group said.

"As we announce the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces - in order to prevent embarrassment of the Iraqi government - we will continue to defend our people in Gaza in other ways," Kataib Hezbollah Secretary-General Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi said in a statement.

Three U.S. troops were killed in a drone attack near the Jordan-Syria border on Sunday that the Pentagon said bore the "footprints" of Kataib Hezbollah, though a final assessment had not yet been made.

A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on the group's statement, adding: "Actions speak louder than words."

The U.S. has vowed to respond to the attack.

Iran-aligned groups, known collectively as the "Axis of Reistance", have been waging attacks against Israeli and U.S. targets from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, since their Palestinian ally Hamas and Israel went to war on Oct. 7.

Kataib Hezbollah is the most powerful faction in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of hardline Shi'ite armed factions that have claimed more than 150 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since the Gaza war began.

The U.S. has responded with deadly strikes in a cycle of escalating violence that Iraqi officials said threatened to undo progress towards stabilizing the country after decades of conflict.

Kataib Hezbollah's decision followed days of intensive efforts by Iraq's prime minister to prevent a new escalation after the Jordan attack, his foreign affairs adviser Farhad Alaadin said.

"Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani has been hard at work in the past few days, engaging with all relevant parties inside and outside Iraq," Alaadin said in an interview.

"All sides need to support the efforts of the Prime Minister to prevent any possible escalation," he added.

In its statement, Kataib Hezbollah also said there were disagreements with allies over its attacks, singling out Iran.

It said counterparts in the Axis of Resistance "often object to the pressure and escalation against the American occupation forces in Iraq and Syria," the statement said.

Iran has denied involvement in attacks by Iraqi groups.

Founded in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah is one of the elite Iraqi armed factions closest to Iran.

Iraq's government is backed by parties and armed groups close to Iran, though not directly by the hardline groups that have been firing on U.S. forces, Western and Iraqi officials say.

Baghdad has condemned the attacks while also saying regional escalation would continue as long as the Gaza war went on.

(Reporting by Timour Azhari; Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)