Rockets targeted the US embassy in Baghdad on Sunday night in an escalation against US personnel and forces in Iraq. It comes a month before the US administration of President Donald Trump will leave office.
In the past Iranian-backed militias have targeted US forces and facilities in Iraq with dozens of rocket attacks since May 2019. The attacks reached a crescendo over the summer and then appeared to slow down as the US threatened to close its embassy and strike at Iranian-backed groups.
The volley of rockets included at least several rockets fired at the Green Zone in Baghdad. It is not the first attack of its kind but it appears more accurate and larger than past attacks.
In the past 107mm rockets launched by pro-Iranian groups have targeted the embassy. Usually these are just one or two rockets fired from nearby. They have usually not caused much damage. In recent months the US has used a C-RAM air defense system against the attacks. The last was recorded in mid-November.
The US indicated there were rising threats in early December. The US has threatened retaliation for these attacks in the past and carried out three rounds of airstrikes since December 2019.
There are a network of pro-Iranian groups in Iraq, including Kataib Hezbollah which is linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The groups also include Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, the Badr Organization and Rab’Allah, as well as a series of other small groups. Many of these are linked to the Popular Mobilization Forces or Hashd al-Shaabi. They are in turn paid salaries by the Iraqi government as an official paramilitary force.
This makes them a cross between Lebanese Hezbollah and the IRGC in Iraq. Many use symbols similar to the IRGC. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of Kataib Hezbollah and deputy of the PMF was killed by a US airstrike in January 2020 when driving with IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani. The US said they were plotting attacks days after militias tried to storm the US embassy.
The rocket attacks began in May 2019. However tensions go back much further. These groups carried out attacks on the US after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Muhandis was wanted by the US for decades in connection with terror attacks in Kuwait. Qais Khazali, head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, was once detained by the US at Camp Cropper in 2007. These groups have vowed to eject the US from Iraq. Even though the PMF and US both fought ISIS the US is seen by Iran as its most implacable enemy.
The Trump administration increased sanctions on Iran. Pro-Iranian militias killed a US contractor near Kirkuk with a rocket attack in December 2019 and also killed three US-led Coalition personnel in March. The US responded with airstrikes.
The US has warned numerous times against more rocket attacks. In the spring of 2020 the US withdrew from a half dozen facilities in Iraq, including K-1, Q-West, Taji and other bases, and then installed C-RAM, an air defense system, in Baghdad at the embassy compound. The embassy compound in the Green Zone is a favorite target of the militias, particularly the Union III base near it. Another facility at the airport is also a frequent target.
The Iranian-backed militias use 107mm katyusha rockets often mounted on purpose built metal launchers that are placed in the back of white Bongo-style trucks. This is a unique setup used by the militias. In a rare event in September the Iranian-backed groups use Grad rockets to target the vicinity of Erbil International Airport in the Kurdistan autonomous region in Iraq, a message to the US that even if the US leaves Baghdad’s embassy and moves forces to the Kurdistan region, the US will not be safe.
The Kurdish region is more pro-American despite the accusations of US betrayal of Kurds in Kirkuk after the Kurdish referendum in October 2017 and the US failure to defend Kurds in eastern Syria in October 2019. Recently Turkey has been threatening a new offensive against what it claims are “terrorist” bases in the mountains of Northern Iraq, inviting Iraq’s Prime Minister to Turkey to discuss the operation.
The rocket attacks declined after a large number over the summer, with one the last attacks being in mid-November. The US threatened to shut its embassy in Baghdad in late September. On December 2 reports indicated the US would withdraw diplomats from Baghdad due to threats.
Source » jpost