Baghdad | At least ten rockets fell early Wednesday at a base housing US troops in western Iraq, two days before Pope Francis’ historic visit to the country.
• Read also: Pope says Iraq trip despite rocket fire
Ten rockets hit a base housing American soldiers in Iraq on Wednesday, killing an American civilian contractor, two days before Pope Francis’ historic visit to the country.
This new attack, preceded by several with the same modus operandi in recent weeks, serves as a reminder to what extent the first visit of a sovereign pontiff to Iraq is a logistical headache.
“I will go to Iraq”, despite everything declared the Pope after an audience, stressing that he wanted “to meet a people who have suffered so much, to meet this martyred Church”.
The United States, which deploys some 2,500 troops in Iraq as part of the anti-jihadist struggle, regularly blames pro-Iran Iraqi armed factions for these attacks. Wednesday’s was not claimed.
The tensions between the two powers operating in Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States, sworn enemies, could constitute an obstacle to the unfolding of the papal program.
As is the pandemic when Iraq recorded more than 5,100 Covid-19 contaminations on Wednesday, a record, despite health restrictions.
Of the ten rockets fired at the Iraqi air base of Ain al-Assad, several fell inside the section where American soldiers of the international anti-jihadist coalition are stationed, said Iraqi and Western security sources. .
A civilian contractor died of a heart attack as a result of the attack, they added. The Pentagon said the victim was of American nationality.
The rockets were fired from a village near Ain al-Assad, a desert region where it is easy to set up launch pads, sometimes in vehicles, fire projectiles and quickly flee, the Iraqi source said.
Rockets “made in Iran”
Without accusing anyone, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi warned on Twitter that no one could “claim to be above the state”.
“Anyone who believes himself in a position to impose his agenda on Iraq and the future of its citizens is deluded,” he added.
The Iraqi military command specified that the ten rockets fired were of the “Grad” type. More precisely of the “Arash” type, detailed to AFP Western security sources, Iranian manufacture and more imposing than the rockets used until recently.
Sworn enemies, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States both have a presence or allies in Iraq. The United States, at the head of the coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group, deploys some 2,500 soldiers there and Iran has the support of Hachd al-Chaabi, a powerful coalition of paramilitaries integrated into the State, among others. Iraqi composed mainly of armed factions funded and armed by Iran.
According to a recent Iranian report, the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s ideological army, developed the “Arash” missiles with a range of 22 km and with a detonator head of 19 kg.
In Iraq, Iran has among others the support of Hachd al-Chaabi, a powerful coalition of paramilitary integrated into the State, composed mainly of armed factions and financed by Tehran.
Iraq experienced calm towards the end of 2020 thanks to a pro-Iran truce in the face of threats from the United States to withdraw all its soldiers and diplomats from the country.
But in recent weeks, attacks have resumed: rockets have fallen near the American embassy in Baghdad, others have targeted Bahla airbase further north, injuring an Iraqi employee of an American company responsible for the maintenance of F-16. Rockets also hit a military base housing the coalition at the airport in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where two people were killed, including a foreign civilian contractor.
Confined papal visit
The Iraqi Kurdish counterterrorism accused by name Wednesday members of Hachd al-Chaabi of having participated in the attack on the base in Erbil, publishing a “confession” of a man presented as one of the four perpetrators of the shootings .
In response to this attack, the United States raided pro-Iran Iraqi militiamen in Syria on February 26. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), 22 Iraqi militiamen perished.
Washington regularly threatens Iran with the worst, especially when one of its nationals is killed. In January 2020, such a spiral nearly escalated into open conflict in Iraq, after an American drone killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, in response to the deaths of Americans in Iraq.
Pope Francis is expected Friday in Baghdad and Sunday in Erbil, where he is due to celebrate mass in a stadium filled with the faithful. He has no planned stopover in the desert west, but will pass through Mosul, a former ISIS stronghold in the north where factions of Hachd al-Chaabi are now deployed.
The sovereign pontiff will be deprived of the crowd baths he loves, because from Friday March 5 to Monday March 8 the country will be in total confinement to deal with the worst.