Rockets hit near Iraq’s Balad base before talks with US
BAGHDAD - Two rockets landed Sunday near an Iraqi air base just north of Baghdad where American trainers are present, causing no casualties or damage, an Iraqi official said.
Major General Tahseen Khafaji said the rockets landed outside Balad air base after midday.
The attack was the first on an Iraqi base housing US troops since an assault last month on a base in western Iraq that houses US contractors and coalition troops. One contractor died after at least 10 rockets slammed into the base, raising concerns over a new round of escalating violence.
It followed US strikes on Iran-aligned militia targets along the Iraq-Syria border in late February in retaliation for another deadly attack on a base in Iraq.
The Sunday attack comes days ahead of a new round the strategic Iraq-US talks on April 7.
The Iraqi government has requested the fourth round of talks, partly in response to pressure from Shiite political factions and militias loyal to Iran that have lobbied for the remaining U.S. troops to leave Iraq.
The talks, which began in June under the Trump administration, would be the first under President Joe Biden. On the agenda is an array of issues, including the presence of US combat forces in the country and Iraqi militias acting outside of state authority.
American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of Iraq to help battle the Islamic State group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country. In late 2020, US troop levels in Iraq were reduced to 2,500 after withdrawals based on orders from the Trump administration.
Calls grew for more US troop withdrawals following a US-directed drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad in January 2020.