A dozen rockets fell on Wednesday on an Iraqi military base that houses troops from the United States and the international coalition that fights the Islamic State (ISIS), including Spain. Although both the coalition and the Spanish Defense General Staff have initially said there were no victims, Iraqi sources speak of a dead “civilian contractor”. The attack, the second of its kind in less than a month, raises the level of tension in the country with two days to go before Pope Francis’ expected visit to Iraq.
Initial report: 10 rockets have been fired at the Iraqi Al Asad military base, which houses coalition troops, this March 3 at around 7:20 am (Iraqi time). Iraqi security forces are leading the response and investigation, ”Coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto tweeted.
The Ain el Assad air base, 100 miles west of Baghdad, is the same one that Iran bombed with missiles last year in retaliation for the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani. The helicopter unit with which Spain supports the coalition is prominent there. None of the 70 Spanish soldiers, as well as the rest of the members of the international contingents, have suffered damages, according to sources from the Defense Staff cited by Europa Press. However, a civilian hired at the base has died, according to Iraqi reports that do not specify his nationality.
Media close to the Iraqi militias raise the number of projectiles fired to 14 and claim on their communication channels that at least four of them were Iranian Arash rockets. Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq systematically harass US interests in Iraq, but given Iran’s interest in having the United States revert to international agreement on its nuclear program, there was a sense of pressure from Tehran to contain their activities.
The detail is not minor, since after the attack on February 16 against another base with the presence of US troops in Erbil, northern Iraq, which caused the death of a Filipino contractor, the US responded by bombing suspicious militia units of his authorship on the Syrian-Iraqi border. The operation, the first by President Joe Biden, was interpreted as a balancing act between sending a clear signal to Iran and not closing the doors to eventual dialogue. But some of the militias have made no secret of their discontent and even aired their will to avenge the bombing.
“This crime indicates that the American forces are not going to change even with the change of Administration in the White House. (…) We condemn these sinful operations and we have no choice but to preserve the blood of our children in the Popular Mobilization Forces with the departure from Iraq of the coalition forces, which have gone from fighting terrorism to targeting to the FMP, ”a statement from the Fatah Alliance, a political bloc with strong ties to Iran, said on Monday, referring to the organization that groups together the militias.
The new attack only fuels the fears of those who consider that the security of Iraq poses an added risk to the papal visit, which is to come amid the coronavirus pandemic. It also raises new doubts about Tehran’s control over the militias or, ultimately, the willingness of its officials to ease tension with Washington to reactivate the nuclear deal.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.