Rockets hit Iraq military airbase hosting US contractors

One person wounded as several rockets strike Iraq’s Balad airbase where a US defence company has its headquarters.

Iraq's F-16 programme is based at Balad airbase [US Air Force via AP Photo]

At least four rockets struck an Iraqi airbase on Saturday night, the Iraqi military said in a statement, while other officials said one person was wounded at the base where a United States defence company services combat aircraft.

The wounded individual worked for the US company, the Associated Press news agency reported, citing four officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. No group immediately claimed the attack on Balad airbase in Salah al-Din province.

Jamal Akab, the media spokesman for the province, told local media the missiles landed “near the perimeter of the airbase in an open area”.

In January 2020, the base, which lies about 80km north of the capital, Baghdad, was attacked by eight Katyusha rockets, wounding four members of the Iraqi air force, including two officers.

US defence company Sallyport has its headquarters within the airbase, and currently has 46 personnel there contracted to provide services to support Iraq’s F-16 programme.

The US has previously evacuated some of its contractors from the base for security reasons.

It was the second salvo of rockets to hit a base hosting US forces or contractors in less than a week. Armed groups that some Iraqi officials say are backed by Iran have claimed similar incidents in the past.

Last week, one foreign civilian contractor was killed and nine others wounded after a volley of missile attacks at the military base inside Erbil’s airport, in the Kurdish-controlled region in northern Iraq.

The attack was claimed by a little-known armed group that called itself Awliya al-Dam – or the Guardians of the Blood. Iraqi officials said the group had ties with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) – the Iraqi paramilitaries established in 2014 from mostly Shia militia groups to fight the ISIL (ISIS) group.

Saturday’s attack comes after NATO announced it would dramatically scale up its mission in Iraq from 500 personnel to 4,000 to battle the remnants of ISIL (ISIS), Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week. The increase comes as US-led coalition troops have gradually reduced their presence in Iraq over the last year.

NATO’s training mission was launched in 2018 to help the conflict-ravaged country develop new academies and military schools for its armed forces. It was initially located in the capital, Baghdad, and in neighbouring Jordan.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies