Rockets hit Iraqi base hosting US forces

Iraq is looking at contingency plans in case spiralling US-Iran tensions cut off its oil exports through the Gulf.
Tuesday 18/06/2019
An Iraqi soldier runs while US and New Zealand coalition forces participate in a training mission with Iraqi army soldiers at Taji base, April 17. (AP)
An Iraqi soldier runs while US and New Zealand coalition forces participate in a training mission with Iraqi army soldiers at Taji base, April 17. (AP)

LONDON – Three rockets landed on a military base hosting US forces north of Baghdad late on Monday, an Iraqi military statement said, without providing further details.

A military source earlier said two mortar shells had landed in the Iraqi section of the sprawling Taji base, located about 30 km (18 miles) north of the Iraqi capital, and another outside it.

No casualties were caused by the shelling, the source said. He said sirens wailed in the US section of the base during the incident.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

It came amid heightened tension in the region between the United States and Iran that has also played out on Iraqi territory.

US officials said last month there was an increased threat from Iran-backed militias against US interests in Iraq, and the US embassy in Baghdad evacuated hundreds of staff.

Washington and Tehran have both said they do not want conflict, but analysts warn that incidents including by what they call “rogue elements” within Iran-backed armed groups could lead to a wider escalation.

Islamic State is also active in areas around Taji and in northern and western Iraq and has carried out dozens of attacks on security forces in recent months. 

Iraq pushes US for ‘calm’ after Gulf tanker attacks

Iraqi premier Adel Abdel Mahdi pushed for “calm” in a Friday phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as tensions spiked between Washington and Tehran over tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman.

The call came after US President Donald Trump accused Iran of being behind Thursday’s attacks on two oil tankers, the latest episode of worsening ties between Baghdad’s two closest allies.

According to Abdel Mahdi’s office, Pompeo phoned the Iraqi prime minister and discussed “the crisis between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Abdel Mahdi told Washington’s top diplomat that Iraq was “striving for calm.”

The prime minister has suggested Iraq as a potential mediator between the United States and Iran, but his offers have borne little fruit.

Thursday’s twin attacks on two vessels after they passed through the Strait of Hormuz — which Trump said had Iran “written all over it” — have raised fears of conflict in the strategically vital waterway.

Iran has denied involvement and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the US of seeking to “sabotage diplomacy”.

Iraq condemned the attacks but did not accuse any country of perpetrating them.

Abdel Mahdi earlier this week warned of the dangers of war.

“Iran isn’t weak, and neither is the US. All sides know that war will cost a lot. No one wants war, but does that mean we have peace? No,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Baghdad has strong military and diplomatic ties to the US but it is also very close to Tehran, one of Iraq’s top trade partners with sway over many Shiite armed units.

Iraq has thus been caught in the throes of the tug-of-war between Washington and Tehran since Trump last year withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed tough sanctions.

Baghdad secured waivers from Washington to keep importing Iranian gas and electricity for its crippled power sector, but those exemptions will end in less than a week with no indication of whether the US has granted another extension.

Iraq looking at options in case Gulf oil route cut

Iraq is looking at contingency plans in case spiralling US-Iran tensions cut off its oil exports through the Gulf, a ministry spokesman said Monday, as observers warned a rupture would be “disastrous”.

Iraq, the second-largest oil producer among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is drawing up an action plan in case of further escalation, according to oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad.

“There is no replacement for the southern port and our other alternatives are limited. It’s a source of anxiety for the global oil market,” Jihad told AFP on Monday.

Lawmakers have also called for an emergency session with Iraq’s ministers of oil, trade, planning and transport to “prepare to confront the possible dangers”.

A third of the world’s seaborne oil supply passes through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel bordered to the north by Iran that links the Gulf with the Gulf of Oman.

In May, Iraqi federal authorities used the southern Basra terminal to export 3.4 million bpd compared to just 100,000 bpd from the northern Ceyhan terminal through Turkey, according to the Iraq Oil Report.

“A vast majority of our oil is exported through this crossing. If there are clashes between boats or (over) oil, we’ll be hurt,” said Mudher Saleh, financial adviser to Iraqi premier Adel Abdel Mahdi.

“It would be a disaster for Iraq.”

So far, there have been no changes to Iraq’s production and exports as a result of recent developments, said spokesman Jihad and ClipperData, which tracks tankers in the region.

Iraq is currently the fifth-largest oil exporter worldwide, and the government’s budget is funded almost exclusively by oil revenues.

“Losing the oil revenue, even for one day, would be disastrous,” said industry analyst Ruba Husari.

“If Iraq loses the ability to export its crude via the Mideast Gulf, it will be totally strangled… The Gulf waterways are its lifeline,” she told AFP.

(AW and agencies)