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Middle East

US ships dozens of missiles to Iraqi forces

As violence escalates in Baghdad, a Shia armed group claims responsibility for rocket attack on Iranian dissidents.

Last updated: 27 Dec 2013 02:23
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Iraq's military is using the US-supplied missiles in an ongoing battle against al-Qaeda [Reuters]

The US has sent dozens of Hellfire air-to-ground missiles to Iraq's air forces, which is using them in an ongoing campaign against the country's branch of al-Qaeda.

Officials in Washington and Baghdad on Thursday confirmed that 75 Hellfires arrived last week, and shipments of Scan Eagle drones will be coming next year amid a surge in violence in Iraq.

"The United States is committed to supporting Iraq in its fight against terrorism," US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

The news comes a day after at least 34 people died in Christmas Day bomb attacks in Baghdad, and as al-Qaeda-linked fighters have stepped up attacks on supporters of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

The Hellfire missiles were apparently being used by four Iraqi King Air propeller planes as part of a large-scale military operation in the western desert near the Syrian border, where an intelligence official said four camps were destroyed.

We've asked [the government] to expel them from the country many times, but they are still here.

Wathiq al-Batat, commander of the al-Mukhtar Army militia

Also on Thursday, a camp of Iranian dissidents in western Baghdad was hit by rockets. The dissidents said at least two people died and several more were seriously wounded, while an Iraqi security official said two were wounded and none died.

A Shia group claimed responsibility for the attack on "Camp Liberty," which has repeatedly been targeted by mortar and rocket attacks in recent months.

"We've asked [the government] to expel them from the country many times, but they are still here," said Wathiq al-Batat, commander of the al-Mukhtar Army armed group.

Al-Batat accused the group of communicating with Sunni and Shia politicians linked to al-Qaeda.

Dissidents unwelcome

The dissidents, who have called for the overthrow of Iran's clerical leaders and fought on Iraq's side during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, are no longer welcome in Iraq under the Shia-led government that came to power after the 2003 US-led invasion.

A spokesman for the group accused al-Maliki's government of staging the attack in an attempt to win support from Iran's government ahead of elections next year, although Iraqi authorities have repeatedly denied involvement in attacks on the camp.

The United Nations estimates that more than 8,000 people have been killed in attacks in Iraq this year.

Washington has been adamant it will not send troops back to Iraq, but will continue to help train Iraqi forces.

Al-Qaeda is believed to have made use of the war in Syria to rebuild its organisation in Iraq, with hard-line fighters shuttling between the two countries.

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