US conducts military exercise in Baghdad to ready for future attack

The Americans’ show of force is a proactive step intended to tell the Iranian side, represented by numerous militia groups, that bombing operations will inevitably fail and lead to disastrous results.

Monday 06/07/2020
A file picture shows Iraqi counter-terrorism forces standing guard in front of the US embassy in the capital Baghdad. (AFP)
A file picture shows Iraqi counter-terrorism forces standing guard in front of the US embassy in the capital Baghdad. (AFP)

BAGHDAD - Iraqi military sources in Baghdad revealed to The Arab Weekly that US Special Forces in charge of protecting the US Embassy carried out a live-fire training exercise in the Iraqi capital to test an air defence system over the Green Zone and its surrounding sites on Saturday.

Witnesses said they spotted airplanes, possibly guided, flying at medium altitudes in the vicinity of the Green Zone in the middle of the Iraqi capital. The witnesses then heard the sound of intermittent explosions and bursts of bullets that were not familiar in terms of intensity and concentration.

The exercise used live ammunition and air defence systems to simulate an attack on the embassy in order to train troops on how to protect the embassy in such an event.

Security sources added that US Special Forces carried out a wide security manoeuvre using drones, machine guns and missiles to intercept rockets.

The US received approval from the Iraqi government to carry out the exercise.

The military manoeuvre shows that the US is preparing to counter any future attack itself, after Iran-backed militias were accused of carrying out such attacks in the Green Zones.

Two weeks ago, Iraqi forces carried out a bold operation targeting a militia accused of involvement in attacking the US Embassy in Baghdad, and arrested a number of its members. Most were later released under pressure from senior militia leaders and Iran-backed Shia politicians.

Map of central Baghdad locating the Green Zone and the US embassy. (AFP)

The raid, targeting the powerful Katai’b Hezbollah group that was accused by US officials of firing rockets at bases hosting US troops, was the most brazen action taken by Iraqi forces against a major Iran-backed militia in years.

The Iraqi operation showed that intelligence services are ready to intercept and thwart attacks, decreasing the risk of direct confrontation with US forces.

Still, US forces seem intent on taking the conflict to the open, as illustrated by the recent military manoeuvre. The Americans’ show of force is a proactive step intended to tell the Iranian side, represented by numerous militia groups, that bombing operations will inevitably fail and lead to disastrous results.

The US’s message to Iranian proxies is consistent with that of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who has renewed efforts to forge security and stability in Iraq.

Sources in Baghdad told The Arab Weekly that Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah group is suspected of commanding Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

This comes as Iraqi militia leaders have distanced themselves from recent attacks, fearing direct American retribution that could earn them a similar fate to Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who was killed in a US airstrike in January.

Washington can also impose sanctions to stop its detractors from enjoying the privileges they maintained through their involvement in Iraqi politics.

Iraqi media outlets affiliated with the IRGC covered the security manoeuvre conducted by US forces in Baghdad, accusing Kadhimi’s government of handing over the country’s security to the United States.

Al-Ahd, Al-Nujaba, Al-Dajah, I-News and other IRGC-linked media outlets dispatched field correspondents with cameras and broadcast equipment to convey what they called an “atmosphere of terror” that hit Baghdad residents when the Americans conducted the exercise.

These TV stations hosted many “security experts,” analysts and politicians to talk about the US’s alleged breach of Iraqi sovereignty.

But the implementation of the US security manoeuvre may have been a preemptive move conducted on the basis of specific information, especially given that the system had entered service at dawn on Sunday, and responded to a missile targeting the US Embassy in the Iraqi capital.

A rocket targeting the US Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone was intercepted by US air defence systems with no claims of responsibility as of Sunday morning.

The eastern entrance of the Green Zone in Baghdad where the embassy is located was reportedly closed after the attack. The rocket reportedly fell near a number of protesters near the suspension bridge in the Green Zone.

The rocket attack on Saturday took place after a number of rocket attacks near the US Embassy in Baghdad and other US military sites in recent weeks.

In June, there were six rocket attacks on the US Embassy, Baghdad International Airport and a base housing US forces.