American diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks in the past 24 hours, US and Iraq officials said on Wednesday, including at least 14 rockets hitting an Iraqi airbase hosting US forces, wounding two American service members.
While there were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks – part of a wave targeting US troops or areas where they are based in Iraq and Syria – analysts believed they were part of a campaign by Iranian-backed armed groups.
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US forces, who have 2,500 soldiers deployed in Iraq as part of an international anti-ISIL (ISIS) group coalition, have been targeted almost 50 times this year in the country, but the last few days have seen an increase in the frequency of attacks.
Iraqi armed groups aligned with Iran promised to retaliate after the US raids on the Iraqi-Syrian border killed four of their members last month.
Two people were slightly wounded in the rocket attack on the Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq, said coalition spokesman US Army Colonel Wayne Marotto. The rockets landed on the base and its perimeter. He said earlier that three people were wounded.
Commenting after Thursday’s development, Wayne said each attack “undermines the authority of Iraqi institutions” and sovereignty.
Each attack against the GoI, KRI and the Coalition undermines the authority of Iraqi institutions, the rule of law and Iraqi National sovereignty. These attacks endanger the lives of Iraqi civilians, & the partner forces from the ISF, Peshmerga & Coalition.
— OIR Spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto (@OIRSpox) July 8, 2021
US officials, speaking to Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, said the two personnel injured were US service members. One suffered a concussion and the other had minor cuts, one of the officials added.
Two rockets were fired at the US embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone early on Thursday, Iraqi security sources told Reuters.
The embassy’s anti-rocket system diverted one of the rockets, said one of the sources – a security official whose office is in the Green Zone. The second rocket fell near the zone’s perimeter, security officials said.
Sirens blared from the embassy compound inside the zone, which houses government buildings and foreign missions, the sources said.
In Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said no damage was done by a drone attack on the Al Omar oilfield in an eastern area bordering Iraq where US forces came under rocket fire but escaped injury on June 28.
“Our front-line forces against [ISIL] and coalition forces in the area of the Omar oilfield dealt with drone attacks,” the Kurdish-led SDF said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor with sources in Syria, said pro-Iran groups had probably launched the drones from a rural area outside the town of Al-Mayadeen southwest of the oilfield.
It was the second such attack in days, after the SDF reported “two unidentified rocket-propelled grenades landed on the western side of the al-Omar oilfield” late on Sunday, which caused no casualties.
Separately, the Pentagon said a drone had been brought down in eastern Syria and that no US service members had been injured and there had not been any damage.
Meanwhile, Iraqi army officials said the pace of recent attacks against bases hosting US forces with rockets and explosive-laden drones was unprecedented.
Iraqi military sources said a rocket launcher fixed on the back of a truck was used in Wednesday’s attack and was found on nearby farmland set on fire.
On Tuesday, a drone attacked Erbil airport in northern Iraq, targeting a US base on the airport grounds, Kurdish security sources said.
Three rockets also landed on Ain al-Asad on Monday without causing casualties.
Asked about the renewed violence, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters: “These attacks reflect and are representative of the threat that Iran-backed militias present fundamentally to Iraq’s sovereignty and to Iraq’s stability.”
‘Green light’ to escalate
The United States has been holding indirect talks with Iran aimed at bringing both nations back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was abandoned by then-President Donald Trump. No date has been set for the next round of the talks, which adjourned on June 20.
Hamdi Malik, an associate fellow at the Washington Institute and specialist on Iraq’s Shia armed groups, told Reuters the attacks were part of a coordinated escalation by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
The attempt to strike in eastern Syria appeared to be the first example of operations being carried out simultaneously in both countries.
“It seems to me they have the green light from Iran to escalate, especially given that the nuclear negotiations are not going well. But at the same time, they do not want to escalate beyond a certain point – they are more vulnerable to US air strikes than they used to be – and they don’t want to overcomplicate the negotiations Iran is holding with the West,” he said.
The US told the United Nations Security Council last week that it targeted Iranian-backed groups in Syria and Iraq with air raids to deter them and Tehran from conducting or supporting further attacks on US personnel or facilities.
Iran denied supporting attacks on the US forces in Iraq and Syria and condemned the US air attacks on Iranian-backed groups.