Iraqi militia rockets test the patience of the new US administration |

BAGHDAD – Ten rockets landed on Iraqi Ain al-Asad air base on Wednesday, which is home to US, coalition and Iraqi forces, the Pentagon said.

There have been no reports of injuries among US military personnel, but a US civilian contractor has died after suffering a “cardiac episode” while taking cover from the rockets, the Pentagon spokesman added, John Kirby, in a statement.

“We cannot assign responsibility at this time and we do not have a full picture of the extent of the damage,” Kirby added. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The rocket attacks in Iraq’s Western Desert came after several weeks of escalating US-Iranian tensions on Iraqi soil.

Observers in the region say the latest assault by Iranian-aligned militias in Iraq is aimed at testing the reaction of the new US administration, and whether Washington will react or accept these attacks as a fait accompli, limiting its reaction to the warnings. and threats like the previous one. the administration of former President Donald Trump did.

The United States is assessing the impact of the attack and who is responsible for it, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“If we assess that a further response is warranted, we will again take action in a manner and at a time of our choosing,” she said at a press briefing. “What we will not do is make a hasty or ill-informed decision that further worsens the decision or plays into the hands of our opponents.”

The rocket attack was the fourth in recent weeks targeting locations where US forces are operating.

Last Thursday, US forces carried out airstrikes against facilities at a border checkpoint in Syria used by Iranian-backed militias, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.

US-led coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto said the rocket barrage took place at 7.20 am (04.20 GMT). Iraqi security forces said they found the platform from which the rockets were fired.

Western security sources said they were Iranian-made 122mm Arash artillery rockets, heavier than those seen in similar attacks.

The Arash missiles are an Iranian version of the Grad model. A report released by Iran’s Tasnim agency in July 2020 spoke of the development of these missiles by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in an attempt to make them more accurate.

According to Tasnim, these missiles have a caliber of 122 mm and a range of 22 km, and they are equipped with a warhead that weighs 19 kg, while the total missile weighs 64 kg.

A Baghdad operations command official said Wednesday’s attack was launched from a location about eight kilometers (five miles) from the base, which is in western Anbar province.

Another Iraqi security source and a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the rockets were launched from a point west of the nearby city of Baghdadi.

– Pressure on militias aligned with Iran –

The death of the US entrepreneur on Wednesday marked the third fatality in recent rocket fire, after an attack targeting US-led troops in the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil left two people dead.

On Wednesday, the Erbil counterterrorism service said its investigation revealed that members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (FMP), an Iraqi state-sponsored security force, were involved in the attack.

The PMF includes hardline pro-Iranian factions accused by US and Iraqi officials of carrying out previous rocket attacks against Western interests.

The attacks are usually claimed by obscure groups which officials say were created to deflect the blame from the real perpetrators.

One of these “front groups” claimed responsibility for the Erbil rockets, but the Erbil counterterrorism service released the “confession” of a man he said was one of four people involved. and which involved the PMF.

Analysts say hardline factions want to step up pressure on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi following his promises to curb rogue militias.

Kadhimi tweeted after Wednesday’s attack that “any party that thinks it is above the state or can impose its agenda on Iraq and the future of its people is delusional.”

Observers also say rockets could be Tehran’s means to pressure Washington, which, under Biden, is proposing to revive the Iran nuclear deal abandoned by its Trump in 2018.

Asked about a US reaction, Biden said, “We identify who is responsible and will make judgments from that point on.”

Kirby said the Iraqis will investigate the attack and the United States will not hesitate to retaliate if necessary.

“Nobody wants to see this situation escalate,” Kirby told reporters.

Referring to the US bombings on Friday, he added: “I said at the time that we hope it will have a deterrent effect. We still do. “

– Complicating Biden’s plans –

Tensions between the two rivals peaked in January 2020 after a U.S. drone strike on Baghdad killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and senior Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

In response, Iran launched ballistic missiles at Ain al-Assad and Erbil, injuring dozens.

Over the next 10 months, dozens of rockets and roadside bombs targeted Western security, military and diplomatic sites across Iraq, some fatal.

The attacks almost completely ceased in October following a truce with the extremists, but have resumed in the past three weeks.

Heightened tensions with Iranian-aligned militias in Iraq could lead to more attacks, complicating the Biden administration’s desire to resolve a number of regional conflicts, as well as the ongoing U.S. strategy to focus more attention to Asia.

Despite Wednesday’s attack and the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis said he would continue his visit, which includes a meeting with senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

“The Iraqi people are waiting for us, they are waiting for Saint John Paul II, who was forbidden to go”, declared the pontiff.

“You cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Pray that this trip will be a success.

To control the crowds during the Pope’s visit, Iraq is preparing to extend weekend closures to cover the entire papal visit from March 5 to 8.

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