(New throughout, adds State Department statement, background)
WASHINGTON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday blacklisted a senior member of Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, punishing it for its attacks targeting U.S. forces, most recently for killing an American contractor in an Iraqi military base near the northern city of Kirkuk.
The U.S. State Department said it has designated Ahmad al-Hamidawi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), Secretary General of Kataib Hezbollah (KH), an Iran-backed terrorist group active in Iraq and Syria, which Washington designated as terrorist organization in 2009.
"The Kataib Hezbollah group continues to present a threat to U.S. forces in Iraq," Nathan Sales, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, said at a news briefing. "We're adding to the pressure that has existed on this group for a decade."
Washington has blamed Iran-backed paramilitary groups for increasingly regular rocketing and shelling of bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq and of the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
An attack last month hit the U.S. Embassy compound itself, and a rocket attack on a military base in the north in December killed a U.S. civilian contractor. This triggered a string of events resulting in with the United States killing the top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike in Baghdad last month. (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Lambert and David Gregorio)
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