Rockets hit Iraq military base near Baghdad amid US-Iran tensions

Airbase that used to house US troops north of Baghdad targeted with rocket barrage, wounding four Iraqi soldiers.

    Ballistic missile debris is seen after Iran's Revolutionary Guard targeted Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq last week [Anadolu Agency]
    Ballistic missile debris is seen after Iran's Revolutionary Guard targeted Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq last week [Anadolu Agency]

    At least four Iraqi soldiers have been wounded when several rockets slammed into an Iraqi airbase north of Baghdad which has housed troops from the United States, according to officials.

    In a statement carried by Iraq's official news agency INA, the Iraqi military media centre said on Sunday the al-Balad airbase, located some 80km away from the capital, was hit by eight Katyusha rockets.

    Some projectiles fell on a restaurant inside the airbase, while others hit the runway and the gate, according to Iraqi officials.

    So far there has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, which caused no US casualties.

    The US-led coalition said there were no US soldiers present at the base during the attack, which has hosted US trainers, advisers and a company that provides maintenance services for F-16 aircraft.

    The incident comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran following the US assassination of a top Iranian commander in Baghdad and Iran's retaliatory missile strikes against US targets in Iraq.

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the attack on Sunday . 

    "Outraged by reports of another rocket attack on an Iraqi airbase," he said in a Twitter post. "I pray for the speed recovery of the injured and call on the government of Iraq to hold those responsible for these attacks accountable."

    "These continued violations of Iraq's sovereignty by groups not loyal to the Iraqi government must end," he added.

    Retaliation strike

    On January 8, Iran launched missile attacks on the Ain Al-Asad airbase in Anbar province and another facility in Erbil in retaliation for the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the overseas wing of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

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    Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a leader of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an umbrella group of mostly Iranian-backed Shia armed groups, was also killed in the US strike near Baghdad's international airport.

    The limited Iranian response, which caused no casualties, appeared to be mainly a show of force, and de-escalated tensions that had threatened to turn Iraq into a proxy battlefield amid increasing fears of all-out war.

    But on Sunday night, the leader of the Lebanese group Hezbollah said Iran's missile attacks on the two  Iraqi bases housing US troops was just the beginning of actions that would be taken in response to the US's killing of Soleimani. 

    "The Americans must remove their bases, soldiers, officers and ships from our region. They should leave," Hassan Nasrallah said in a 90-minute speech.

    Hezbollah is closely aligned to Iran and the IRGC provides training for Hezbollah combatants who fought in Syria.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies