Iran-backed militias suspected of continuing rocket attacks on Iraqi bases
BAGHDAD – Three Katyusha rockets fell on the Camp Taji military base on Monday night, damaging an Iraqi Army helicopter, the Iraqi military said.
The Iraqi Army said the rockets were launched from Saba’ al-Bour neighbourhood and fell on an area within the premises of the Camp Taji base, located 85 kilometres (some 53 miles) north of Baghdad.
The base houses both Iraqi and international military personnel as part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group (ISIS). The US-led coalition reported no casualties.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for rocket strike, which is the latest in a long-running series of low-level attacks believed to be carried out by Iran-backed militias in Iraq.
On Friday, four Katyusha rockets struck Besmaya air base, one day before the US-led coalition handed the base over to Iraqi forces. No injuries were reported.
Earlier this year, the US ordered coalition personnel to consolidate at larger garrisons in Iraq such as Taji, Ain al-Asad and Erbil air bases as part of a planned new phase of the multinational mission in support of Iraq’s military against ISIS.
The coronavirus pandemic and a spate of rocket attacks hastened the coalition’s pullback.
Last December, a rocket attack killed an American military contractor at Taji, leading the US to launch airstrikes against Katai’b Hezbollah targets across the country.
The US then killed top Iranian Quds Force commander Major General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad after pro-Iranian militia leaders led mobs to storm the US Embassy in the Iraqi capital.
“Iraqi security forces will continue to seek and pursue those involved in these attacks and bring them to justice,” Iraq’s security media cell tweeted.
The latest uptick in attacks comes shortly before Iraq embarks on strategic talks with the US in which the presence of American forces in the country is expected to top the agenda.
The rocket attacks also come at a time of rising tension between the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi and powerful Iran-backed militias and political parties who oppose him and accuse him of siding with the United States.
Late last month, Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Services arrested more than a dozen men allegedly linked to the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces militias who the Iraqi government said were suspected of planning attacks.
The arrest raid angered paramilitary groups, which pressed the government to release those detained.
Most of the militiamen were released almost immediately.
Kadhemi presides over a government which must balance the competing interest of the United States and Iran, Iraq’s two main allies.
The United States wants the Iraqi government to put a stop to regular rocket attacks on US facilities, which Washington blames on Iran-backed militias.
Iran’s allies in Iraq demand a withdrawal of US troops from the country, which the United States invaded in 2003, toppling Saddam Hussein and paving the way for Iran to entrench its influence over Baghdad.