Iraqi armed groups fired two Katyusha rockets at a house in Baghdad, killing two women and three children while severely wounding two other children, the Iraqi military said on Monday. It was the first time in months an attack led to civilian casualties.
The three Iraqi children and two women were from the same family and were killed when a rocket targeting Baghdad airport, where US troops are stationed, fell on their home instead, the army said in a statement.
The rockets were launched from the al-Jihad neighbourhood of Baghdad. The home was completely destroyed.
The military accused “cowardly criminal gangs and groups of outlaws” of seeking to “create chaos and terrorise people”.
It said Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had ordered the arrest of the perpetrators and said “these gangs will not be allowed to go around and tamper with security” with impunity.
The deaths were the first among Iraqi civilians in the latest outbreak of violence, during which Iran-backed Iraqi Shia fighters have been blamed for targeting US interests in the country.
A string of attacks has targeted Americans after Washington threatened to close its embassy and withdraw its 3,000 troops from the country unless rocket fire stops.
Between October 2019 and July 2020, at least 39 rocket attacks targeted American interests in Iraq. A similar number again has taken place in recent months.
Rockets often target the US embassy in Baghdad, within the heavily fortified Green Zone, and US troops present in Iraqi bases as well as the Baghdad airport. Roadside bombs have also frequently targeted convoys carrying equipment destined for US-led coalition forces.
The frequency of the rocket fire has strained Iraq-US relations, prompting the Trump administration last week to threaten to close its diplomatic mission in Baghdad if those believed to be behind it are not reigned in.
The attacks, which started about a year ago, have caused few casualties. Monday’s incident was the first to claim so many civilian lives.
Twitter accounts supporting US arch-enemy Iran regularly praise the attacks, but that was not the case on Monday, and no group immediately claimed responsibility.
Previous attacks of the same nature have been claimed by murky groups saying they are acting against the “American occupier”. Analysts say they include former members of pro-Iranian factions of the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance.
Iraqi intelligence sources have blamed the attacks on a small group of hardline Iran-backed armed factions. The disparate nature of Shia fighters following the US assassination of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani and Iranian Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis has complicated Iraqi efforts to clamp down on rogue armed elements.
A government raid on the powerful Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group, suspected of launching rocket attacks, backfired when those detained were released for want of evidence.