World One dead in rocket attack on Iraq base hosting US troops
Biden, Iraqi PM discuss recent rocket attacks in phone call
The Iraqi PM and the US president say those responsible for recent rocket attacks should be ‘held fully to account’.“The President affirmed US support for Iraq’s sovereignty and independence, and commended the Prime Minister’s leadership,” the White House statement said on Tuesday.
At least 10 rockets slammed into a military base in western Iraq hosting US-led coalition troops on Wednesday, security sources said, leaving one civilian contractor dead.
The attack on the sprawling Ain al-Assad base in Iraq's western desert comes after several weeks of escalating US-Iran tensions on Iraqi soil -- and just two days before Pope Francis's historic visit.
Ain al-Assad hosts both Iraqi forces and US-led coalition troops helping fight the Islamic State group, as well as the unmanned drones the coalition uses to surveil jihadist sleeper cells.
Biden’s Syria Airstrikes May Feel Like Trump Déjà Vu. Here’s What’s Different.
American airstrikes on Iran-linked paramilitaries in Syria this week were a deterrent response to attacks on U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq. Yet they also to seem have been a conscious refutation by the Biden administration of the Trump administration’s wild, dangerous approach to both Iraq and Iran. Trump’s recklessness almost ignited a regional war. The Biden team’s handling of Thursday’s airstrikes looks very intentionally un-Trump—but Trump left Biden with a dangerous enough predicament in Iraq that even a more careful, deliberate approach might not be enough to fix it.On Thursday evening, U.S.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Wayne Marotto confirmed that 10 rockets hit the base at 7:20 am (0420 GMT) while Iraqi security forces said they had found the platform from which 10 "Grad-type rockets" hit the Ain al-Assad base.
Western security sources told AFP the rockets were Iranian-made Arash models, which are 122mm artillery rockets and heavier than those seen in similar attacks.
"One civilian contractor died of a heart attack during the attack," a high-level security source told AFP, adding that he could not confirm the contractor's nationality.
The death marks the third fatality in rocket attacks in recent weeks, after rockets targeting US-led troops in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil left two people dead.
Francis prepares first-ever papal visit to Iraq
Pope Francis is to start the first-ever papal visit to Iraq on Friday, an act of solidarity with an ancient but dwindling Christian community and a symbolic outreach to Muslims. At the time, Pope Francis endorsed military action against IS and considered visiting northern Iraq in solidarity with Christians there. Video: Iraqi Christians, decimated by Islamist violence, prepare for pope's visit (Reuters) Your browser does not support this video That trip never materialised, but Francis has kept a close eye on Iraq, condemning the killing of unarmed protesters during mass anti-government rallies from 2019.
Days later, more rockets hit a US military contracting company working north of the capital and the US embassy in Baghdad, but only injuries were reported.
- Boiling tensions -
In response, the US carried out an air strike on February 26 against Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary force stationed along the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Washington says it struck on the Syrian side of the border but Kataeb claims one of its fighters who was killed in the bombardment was protecting "Iraqi territory".
Analysts have pointed to both domestic and international reasons for the sudden rise in tensions.
Hardline Iraqi groups have an interest in ramping up the pressure on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi following his pledges to rein in rogue militias.
They may also carry a message from Tehran to Washington, which under US President Joe Biden is offering to revive the Iran nuclear deal abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump in 2018.
Rockets target Iraqi air base hosting US forces
The attack comes days after the US carried out air strikes on Iran-backed Iraqi militias in Syria.Iraq's military said the rockets caused no significant losses at Al Asad air base, but security sources told AFP news agency that a civilian contractor died after suffering a heart attack.
Iran is demanding the US lift sanctions immediately, while the US wants Iran to move first by returning to previous nuclear commitments.
Tensions between the two rivals peaked in January 2020, following a US drone strike on Baghdad airport that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and top Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
In response, Iran launched ballistic missiles on Ain al-Assad and Arbil, wounding dozens.
- Determined Pope -
Over the next 10 months, dozens of rockets and roadside bombs targeted Western security, military and diplomatic sites across Iraq -- some of them deadly.
Iraqi and Western officials have blamed hardline pro-Iran factions, some of which have established "front groups" to avoid being directly accused of violence.
Last year's attacks came to a near-complete halt in October following a truce with the hardliners, but they have resumed at a quickening pace over the past three weeks.
Despite the recent escalation, Pope Francis appears determined to go ahead on Friday with the first-ever papal visit to Iraq.
While he is not set to be in the country's west, he will spend time in Baghdad and Arbil, both hit by rocket attacks last month.
Iraq is simultaneously gripped by a second wave of the coronavirus, which is seeing more than 4,500 new cases a day in the country of 40 million.
To stem the spread and control the crowds during the Pope's visit, Iraq is set to extend its weekend lockdowns to include the entirety of the papal visit from March 5-8.
Pope to visit Iraq regions once held by IS group .
The Roman Catholic leader will also celebrate Mass at an event expected to attract 10,000 people.Militants overran the region in 2014, destroying historic churches and looting. Christians have been returning there since IS was defeated in 2017.