Rocket fire at a base housing Americans in Iraq, 5 injured

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SAMARRA | Five rockets targeted an air base sheltering Americans in Iraq on Sunday, wounding five, including two foreigners, the latest attack which illustrates Iranian-American tensions in a country caught between its two allies.

Of the five rockets fired in the evening at the Balad base, north of Baghdad, two crashed into a dormitory and a canteen of the American subcontracting company Sallyport, a security source told AFP.

Five people were injured, including two foreign contractors and three Iraqi soldiers, the source added.

F-16 planes are stationed at the Balad base and various companies are present for maintenance, employing Iraqis and foreigners.

The attack was not immediately claimed, but Washington regularly accuses Iraqi armed groups close to Iran, the enemy of the United States, of targeting its troops and diplomats in Iraq.

In total, around twenty bomb or rocket attacks have targeted bases housing American soldiers or American diplomatic representations since Joe Biden came to power at the end of January. And dozens more have taken place since fall 2019 under Donald Trump’s administration.

Last Wednesday, the attacks reached a new level: for the first time pro-Iran Iraqi factions carried out a suicide drone attack on an American headquarters at Erbil airport in Iraqi Kurdistan.

And this, in the midst of tensions between Washington and Tehran over the issue of Iranian nuclear power.

Withdrawal schedule

In attacks since late 2019, two Americans have been killed, along with an Iraqi civilian. An Iraqi man, working for an Iraqi Army F-16 aircraft maintenance company, was injured in Balad on February 21. On April 4, the base was targeted again, this time without causing any casualties.

These shootings are sometimes claimed by obscure groups, in reality false noses of pro-Iran armed groups present for a long time in the country, say the experts, citing the speeches of their leaders who regularly threaten to “strike more often and more strong ”the 2,500 American soldiers still stationed in Iraq.

On April 7, Washington and Baghdad resumed their “strategic dialogue” which should lead to a timetable for the withdrawal of the international coalition that came to fight the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in 2014.

If the two parties ensure to agree on the principle, its implementation could however take years, assure officials on both sides.

Sworn enemies, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States both have a presence or allies in Iraq.

Washington deploys some 2,500 troops there and Iran has the support of Hachd al-Chaabi, a coalition of paramilitary groups integrated into the state, among others.

The Iraqi government of Mustafa al-Kazimi, which passes for more pro-American than its predecessor, is regularly threatened by the pro-Iran.

With each deadly attack, Washington promises to make Iran pay a heavy price.

In January 2020, such a spiral nearly escalated into open conflict in Iraq, after an American drone killed the powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, in response to the deaths of Americans in Iraq.