Two armed drones were shot down as they approached a military facility hosting American forces at Baghdad’s international airport, security sources said on January 3, amid heightened regional tensions on the second anniversary of the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. drone strike.

A counterrocket system at a compound used by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) extremist group “engaged [the two drones] and they were shot down without incident,” a coalition source told AFP.

Describing the unmanned aircraft as “suicide drones,” a coalition official told AP that the incident was “a dangerous attack on a civilian airport.”

There were no reports of damage or injuries from the incident, which was confirmed by Iraqi security officials. No one immediately claimed responsibility.

General Qassem Soleimani, who headed the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Hamid al-Muhandis, were killed on January 3, 2020 in a drone strike near Baghdad airport.

The air strike, ordered by then-President Donald Trump, came in response to a spate of attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq.

Soleimani was considered a main architect of Iran’s Middle East military strategy, and his killing ratcheted up tensions between Iran and the United States.

Five days after Soleimani’s death, Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi air base hosting U.S. forces and another base near the Iraqi city of Irbil.

In another sign of Middle East tensions, the website of a major Israeli newspaper was targeted by hackers on January 2.

The attack on the Jerusalem Post’s website replaced content with an image showing a missile falling from a fist bearing a ring long associated with Soleimani.

The image included an exploding target designed to look like an Israeli nuclear research center associated with Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons program.

The English-language newspaper acknowledged the hack, saying on Twitter: “We are aware of the apparent hacking of our website, alongside a direct threat to Israel.”

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the hacking.

The Jerusalem Post said it was unclear if the hackers were from Iran, supporters from outside the country, or if they were state-sponsored.

The previous day, hundreds of demonstrators turned out in Baghdad to mark the anniversary of the attack that killed Soleimani.

On December 31, Iran’s Foreign Ministry posted on Twitter that “the U.S. government bears definitive international responsibility” for the killing, which it denounces as “a terrorist attack.” It said “the White House is now responsible,” seeming to refer to the administration of Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden.

Although the international coalition against the IS group announced the end of its “combat mission” in Iraq in December, some 2,500 U.S. and 1,000 coalition troops remain in the country to advise and train Iraqi security forces.

Also on January 3, Yemen’s Iranian-backed Huthi rebels seized an Emirati-flagged ship in the Red Sea, a crucial route for international trade and energy shipments.

The Shi’ite Huthis acknowledged the incident off the coast of Hodeida, a long-contested prize of the seven-year war in Yemen.

A military spokesman for the group, Yahia Sarei, described the ship as an Emirati “military cargo ship” carrying equipment into Yemen’s territorial waters “without any license” to engage in “hostile acts” against the country’s stability.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Huthis accused the group of committing an act of “armed piracy,” and asserted that the ship carried medical equipment from a dismantled Saudi field hospital in the island of Socotra.

Source » rferl