Mourners hit out at Iraq’s government over insecurity on Tuesday during the funerals of five children and two women killed by a wayward rocket targeting US troops stationed at Baghdad airport.
Several among the hundreds attending the funeral in the village of Al-Bouchaabane, a few kilometres from Baghdad airport, said some of the children were killed by the rocket as they played in front of their home late on Monday.
“This village is like a microcosm of Iraq,” one mourner said. “If the government isn’t capable of protecting us, how can it ensure the security of Iraq as a whole?”
The latest attack targeting American interests was one of about 40 since early August, and many others stretching back months.
In front of the victims’ small home, dozens of tribal chiefs received condolences close to the crater left by the rocket. Shrapnel holes were visible in walls and blood on the ground.
The United States is “outraged” by the rocket attack, the US State Department said on Tuesday, urging Iraqi authorities to take immediate action to hold the perpetrators accountable.
“We have made the point before that the actions of lawless Iran-backed militias remains the single biggest deterrent to stability in Iraq,” Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
Iraqi armed groups fired the Katyusha rocket at the house in Baghdad, killing two women and five children. It was the first time in months an attack led to civilian casualties.
The victims, all from the same family, were killed as rockets targeting Baghdad airport – where US troops are stationed – slammed into their home instead.
The attack took place on the same day the US made preparations to withdraw diplomats from Iraq after warning Baghdad it could shut its embassy, a step Iraqis fear could turn their country into a battle zone.
Any move by the US to scale down its diplomatic presence in a country where it has up to 5,000 troops would be widely seen in the region as an escalation of its confrontation with Iran, which Washington blames for missile and bomb attacks.
The rocket was launched from the al-Jihad neighbourhood of Baghdad.
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 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.
The death toll places the armed factions in an uncomfortable position. The public has become increasingly disillusioned with years of violence and armed groups holding the country to ransom.
Possibly anticipating a backlash, pro-Iran social media accounts that usually laud such rocket strikes were silent in the wake of the latest attack.
Several high-ranking officials attended the funerals in a bid to provide reassurance, but several among the hundreds of Iraqis surrounding said they feel permanently unsafe.