US Condemns Latest Missile Attack On Iraqi Base

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo/ AFP

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday he was “outraged” by another missile attack on an Iraqi airbase where US forces have been stationed, as neighboring Iran signalled a wish to de-escalate tensions.

“Outraged by reports of another rocket attack on an Iraqi airbase,” Pompeo tweeted. “These continued violations of Iraq’s sovereignty by groups not loyal to the Iraqi government must end.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s rocket attacks, in which the Iraqi military said eight missiles wounded two Iraqi officers and two airmen.

The US has previously blamed such attacks on Iran-backed groups in Iraq.

The Al-Balad base had held a small US Air Force contingent as well as American contractors, but most were evacuated following a sharp rise in friction between the US and Iran over the past two weeks, military sources told AFP.

Al-Balad is the main airbase for Iraq’s F-16s, which it bought from the US.

Military bases hosting US troops have been subject in recent months to rocket and mortar attacks that have mostly wounded Iraqi forces, but also killed one American contractor last month.

That death set off a series of dramatic developments, with the US carrying out deadly strikes against a pro-Iran paramilitary group in Iraq as well as a convoy carrying top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani outside the Baghdad airport.

Pro-Iran factions in Iraq have vowed revenge for those raids.

AFP

Rockets Hit Iraq Base Hosting US Troops

An image grab from footage obtained from the state-run Iran Press news agency on January 8, 2020 allegedly shows rockets launched from the Islamic republic against the US military base in Ein-al Asad in Iraq the prevous night.  IRAN PRESS / AFP

 

A volley of rockets slammed into an Iraqi airbase north of Baghdad where US forces have been based, wounding four local troops, the Iraqi military said on Sunday.

Its statement said eight Katyusha-type rockets landed on Al-Balad airbase, wounding two Iraqi officers and two airmen.

Al-Balad is the main airbase for Iraq’s F-16s, which it bought from the US to upgrade its air capacities.

The base had held a small US Air Force contingent as well as American contractors, but a majority had been evacuated following tensions between the US and Iran over the past two weeks, military sources told AFP.

“About 90 percent of the US advisers, and employees of Sallyport and Lockheed Martin who are specialised in aircraft maintenance, have withdrawn to Taji and Erbil after threats,” one of the sources said.

“There are no more than 15 US soldiers and a single plane at al-Balad,” the source added.

Military bases hosting US troops have been subject to volleys of rocket and mortar attacks in recent months that have mostly wounded Iraqi forces, but also killed one American contractor last month.

That death set off a series of dramatic developments, with the US carrying out strikes against a pro-Iran paramilitary group in Iraq as well as a convoy carrying top Iranian and Iraqi commanders outside Baghdad airport.

Pro-Iran factions in Iraq have vowed revenge for those raids, even as Iran said it had already responded in “proportion” by striking another western airbase where US soldiers are located.

Rocket attacks against Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone, where the US and other embassies are based alongside international troops, are still taking place.

AFP

US Rejects Request To Discuss Withdrawal Of Troops In Iraq

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 22, 2017, US troops walk as a US C-47 Chinook helicopter flies over the village of Oreij, south of Mosul. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

 

The United States on Friday rejected a request by Iraq to start talks on pulling out its 5,200 troops, notching up the discord after Washington killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.

Angry at an attack seen as violating Iraqi sovereignty and enmeshing the country again in war, Iraq’s caretaker prime minister asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Thursday to send a delegation to begin withdrawal arrangements.

The State Department said it was ready for “a conversation” — but not about removing troops.

“At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

Calling the United States “a force for good,” she said: “We want to be a friend and partner to a sovereign, prosperous and stable Iraq.”

President Donald Trump has described the 2003 US invasion of Iraq as a mistake and in the past criticized US troop deployments, in Iraq and elsewhere, as wasteful.

Nonetheless, he has responded angrily to Iraqi efforts to expel US troops, even threatening sanctions on a country promoted as a US partner.

Pompeo, speaking to reporters, said that US troops’ mission in Iraq was “very clear” — training local forces and fighting the Islamic State extremist group.

“As times change and we get to a place where we can deliver up on what I believe, and the president believes, is our right structure, with fewer resources dedicated to that mission, we will do so,” he said.

– Iraqis take to streets –

Iraqi leaders were infuriated by the US drone strike at Baghdad’s airport that killed Iran’s most prominent general, Qasem Soleimani, on January 3 and parliament voted on Sunday to rescind an invitation to foreign troops.

Caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, in his call to Pompeo, “requested that delegates be sent to Iraq to set the mechanisms to implement parliament’s decision for the secure withdrawal of (foreign) forces from Iraq,” Abdel Mahdi’s office said in a statement.

But Abdel Mahdi is in a weak position, staying in power in an acting capacity more than a month after resigning in the face of massive demonstrations.

Protests resumed Friday across the country, with protesters denouncing the influence both of the United States and Iran.

“Screw Iran! Screw America!” protesters cried out in the capital’s iconic Tahrir Square, still lined with tents and stalls set up three months ago.

Fearing their movement would be eclipsed by war, Iraqi activists posted calls on social media in recent days for the mass protest on Friday, which marked the inverse date, 10/1, of the first rallies on October 1, or 1/10.

Protesters in the Shiite holy city of Karbala clashed overnight with security forces and others were arrested in Basra on Friday.

“By relaunching the protests, we’re showing our commitment to the demands of the October revolution: that our leaders stop monopolizing our country’s resources,” said Haydar Kazem, protesting in Nasiriyah.

– Proxy battleground –

The US invasion that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein set off bloodshed across the country and allowed growing influence of Saddam’s nemesis Iran which, like Iraq, has a Shiite Muslim majority.

Former president Barack Obama ordered a withdrawal from Iraq but US troops were invited back in 2014 to fight the surge of the extremist Islamic State group.

But under Trump, Iraq has increasingly become a proxy battleground between the United States and Iran, which has also battled the Islamic State group.

Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias have fired rockets at US forces as Trump tries to strangle Iran through sweeping sanctions, which the administration again bolstered on Friday.

Seeking to boost international support of his actions against Iran, Trump has called for NATO — the alliance of Western nations which he has often described as free-riders — to play a greater role in the Middle East.

The request baffled many observers, who wondered what Trump had in mind. He has been seeking to wind down the nearly two-decade US deployment, led by NATO, in Afghanistan.

Pompeo, without further details, said a NATO delegation was holding talks on Friday in Washington on “burden-sharing in the region.”

AFP

US House Votes To Limit Trump War Powers Against Iran

 

 

In a rebuke to President Donald Trump, the US House voted Thursday to restrict his future military action against Iran, as lawmakers sought to claw back congressional war powers from the White House.

The non-binding resolution was introduced by Democrats after Trump’s order to kill an Iranian commander and retaliatory missile strikes by the Islamic republic dramatically escalated tensions and raised fears of a war between the two foes.

The vote, 224 to 194, was largely along party lines, although three members of Trump’s Republican Party joined Democrats in approving the measure that demands the president not engage in military action against Iran unless authorized by Congress.

Air Strike Kills Eight Iraq Paramilitaries In East Syria

 

An airstrike in eastern Syria killed eight fighters of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force overnight, a war monitor said on Friday.

“Unidentified aircraft targeted vehicles and arms depots in the Albu Kamal area, causing a large explosion. At least eight Iraqi Hashed fighters were killed,” the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

He said several others were wounded.

Through a spokesman contacted by AFP, the US-led military coalition operating in Syria and Iraq denied carrying out the strike.

Abdel Rahman said three villages in the Albu Kamal area known for housing forces loyal to Tehran have been targeted by drone strikes since Wednesday, causing no casualties.

READ ALSO: Iranian Missile Brought Down Airliner, Says Canadian PM

The deadly strike comes in a context of spiralling tension between the United States and Iran, much of which has played out in Iraq.

Late last year, a US air strike in Iraq killed 25 Hashed fighters from the Kataeb Hezbollah militia, considered one of the closest to Tehran.

Hashed supporters subsequently stormed the huge US embassy compound in central Baghdad, further escalating the situation.

On January 3, a US strike near Baghdad airport killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s feared external operations supremo, in one of the Middle East’s highest-profile assassinations of recent years.

Also killed in the strike was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a founder of Kataeb Hezbollah and seen as Iran’s man in Iraq.

Tehran has vowed bloody revenge and has so far responded with ballistic missiles on a base in western Iraq housing US and other coalition troops.

Iran claimed the strikes killed 80 people but neither the US nor the Iraqi military reported any casualties.

After Missile Launch Iran Says It Respects Iraqi Sovereignty

Members of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military network attempt to break into the US embassy in the capital Baghdad, on December 31, 2019, during a rally to vent anger over weekend air strikes that killed pro-Iran fighters in western Iraq. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

 

Iran said Wednesday it respects Iraq’s territorial integrity, after firing missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops.

The early Wednesday strike led Iraq to say it would summon the Iranian ambassador.

In a letter to the United Nations Security Council and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said his country has full respect for “the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Republic of Iraq.”

There were no American or Iraqi military casualties in the strikes.

“The operation was precise and targeted military objectives thus leaving no collateral damage to civilians and civilian assets in the area,” the diplomat said in a letter released by the Iranian mission.

Iran “recalls its dedication to the maintenance of international peace and security and stresses that it does not seek escalation or war,” he said.

Iraq’s foreign ministry said Wednesday it would call in the Iranian ambassador because of the missile attack, which it called a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

Iraq had already summoned the US ambassador after the US drone strike last Friday that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad airport.

Trump Pulls Back From War With Iran

 

 

President Donald Trump pulled back from the brink of war with Iran on Wednesday, saying that Tehran appeared to be “standing down” after firing missiles — without causing casualties — at US troops based in Iraq.

In a televised address to the nation from the White House, Trump emphasized there were “no Americans harmed” in the ballistic missile salvo aimed at two bases.

While he promised to immediately impose “punishing” new economic sanctions on Tehran, Trump welcomed signs the Islamic republic “appears to be standing down” in the tit-for-tat confrontation.

The comments cooled what threatened to become an uncontrolled boiling over of tensions after Trump ordered the killing last Friday of a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani.

In New York, the Nasdaq stock market index surged to a record high of 9,129.24.

However, the US president, facing both an impeachment trial in Congress and tough reelection in November, defended his targeting of a man seen by many as Iran’s second most influential official.

Soleimani, a national hero at home, was “the world’s top terrorist” and “should have been terminated long ago,” Trump said.

And although Trump ended his remarks with a call for peace, he opened by stating that he would never allow Iran to procure a nuclear weapon.

It was Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from a multinational agreement aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the reimposition of crippling economic sanctions against Tehran, which began an intensification of tensions between the two countries.

Missiles blast bases

Iran’s missiles targeted the sprawling Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq and a base in Arbil, both housing American and other foreign troops from a US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State jihadist group.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier promised “revenge” for Soleimani, called the missiles a “slap in the face” against the United States.

He indicated there was more to come.

“The question of revenge is another issue,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.

Iraq’s military said it also sustained no casualties. But the strike highlighted the difficult position of Iraq, caught in an ever-deepening conflict between Trump and Iran.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, dismissed suggestions that Iran did not mean to kill Americans with the missile barrage.

“I believe, based on what I saw and what I know, is that they were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel. That’s my own personal assessment,” Milley told reporters.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh rejected Iraq being a “battlefield for warring sides.”

At the United Nations, Iran’s ambassador said in a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that despite the missile firing, Iran respects Iraq’s territorial integrity.

Iran has powerful militia allies in Iraq and they said they intended to take revenge for Friday’s US drone attack, in which top Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis died alongside Soleimani.

Muhandis was the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi, a military network incorporated into the Iraqi state whose factions are backed by Tehran.

Late Wednesday two rockets, fired by unidentified forces, landed in the supposedly high-security Green Zone, where US and other embassies are located, security sources said.

AFP correspondents heard two loud detonations.

Unusual brazenness

The brazenness of Iran’s ballistic missile strike was unusual.

But as the dust settled, it appeared that Iran’s attack — coming soon after the burial of Soleimani at a funeral in front of vast crowds — might have been more symbolic than anything.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif indicated Iran was satisfied for now.

“Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defense,” Zarif said on Twitter.

Reflecting deep concerns among Trump’s domestic opponents, the Democratic-led US House of Representatives scheduled a vote for Thursday on limiting the Republican president’s ability to wage war against Iran without congressional approval.

“The president has made clear that he does not have a coherent strategy to keep the American people safe, achieve de-escalation with Iran and ensure stability in the region,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

But US Defense Secretary Mark Esper insisted the United States has restored some deterrence against Iran in the wake of the Soleimani killing.

“But we will see. Time will tell,” Esper said.

US headaches in Iraq

The apparent de-escalation in Iran did not remove pressure from approximately 5,200 US troops stationed across Iraq, where they face pro-Iranian Shiite militias and political opposition.

Paramilitary chief Qais al-Khazali — blacklisted as a “terrorist” by the US — said his side’s response to the United States “will be no less than the size of the Iranian response.”

But US Vice President Mike Pence told the CBS Evening News that “we’re receiving some encouraging intelligence that Iran is sending messages to those very same militias not to move against American targets or civilians.”

Angered at the US drone strike, the Iraqi parliament has called for the expulsion of American troops, sparking embarrassing confusion at the Pentagon over how to respond.

– Airliner crash kills 176 –
Separately, a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 crashed just outside Tehran after taking off bound for Kiev, killing all 176 people on board shortly after Iran launched its missiles towards Iraq.

There was no immediate suggestion of any link with the strikes but carriers including Air France, Royal Dutch Airlines and Lufthansa announced they were suspending flying through Iranian and Iraqi airspace as a precaution.

The US aviation regulator banned civil flights over Iraq, Iran, and the Gulf, citing the potential for “misidentification” of aircraft.

Rockets Hit Baghdad Green Zone Housing US Embassy In Iraq

 

Two rockets crashed late Wednesday into the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone, the high-security enclave where foreign embassies including the US mission are based, security sources told AFP.

The attack came nearly 24 hours after Tehran launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing American and other coalition forces in retaliation for the US killing top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

Just before midnight, AFP’s correspondents in Baghdad heard two loud blasts followed by the wailing security sirens of the Green Zone.

The strikes were in retaliation for a US drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis last week.

Muhandis had been the deputy head of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a web of armed groups incorporated into the Iraqi state but which also have close ties to Tehran.

The United States had accused Hashed groups of being behind a string of rocket attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad and bases hosting American troops across the country.

On Wednesday, the Hashed’s hardline factions vowed they, too, would take revenge for the US raid.

Paramilitary chief Qais al-Khazali — blacklisted as a “terrorist” by the US — said Iraq’s response to the US “will be no less than the size of the Iranian response.”

Harakat al-Nujaba, a hardline Hashed faction, vowed to avenge Muhandis.

“To American soldiers: Do not close your eyes. Revenge for the martyr Muhandis is coming at the hands of Iraqis — until the last soldier among you leaves,” it said.

AFP

Iraq President ‘Denounces’ Iran Missile Strikes

President Buhari To Swear In Ministers August 21

 

 

Iraq’s President Barham Saleh on Wednesday condemned Iran’s missile strikes on Iraqi bases where the US and other foreign troops are based, saying he feared “dangerous developments” in the region.

“We denounce the Iranian missile bombing that hit military installations on Iraqi territory and renew our rejection of the repeated violation of state sovereignty and the transformation of Iraq into a battlefield for warring sides,” his office said in a statement.

Iran launched the missiles early Wednesday in response to the killing of senior Revolution Guards commander Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Iraq last week.

Western Powers Condemn Iran Attack On US Bases

 

 

Western powers on Wednesday condemned Iran’s missile attack on Iraqi bases housing the US and other foreign troops, urging an end to the escalating crisis.

Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, officials in Washington and Tehran said.

Iran said it was in response to the US killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last week, warning it would hit back even harder if Washington responded.

 Trump: ‘All is well’

“All is well!” US President Donald Trump’s tweeted. “Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good!”

He would be making a statement Wednesday morning, he added.

– ‘Resounding blow’ –
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has described Soleimani as Iran’s “terrorist-in-chief”, made it clear Israel would strike back if attacked.

“Anyone who attacks us will receive a resounding blow,” he warned.

‘Urgent de-escalation’

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called on Iran to end its attacks.

“We condemn this attack on Iraqi military bases hosting Coalition — including British — forces,” he said, urging Iran not to repeat them but instead to “pursue urgent de-escalation.

“A war in the Middle East would only benefit Daesh and other terrorist groups,” he added, referring to the Islamic State group. Britain’s defence ministry said there had been no British casualties.

‘No-one’s interest’

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the attack was yet another example of “escalation and increased confrontation”.

“It is in no-one’s interest to turn up the spiral of violence even further,” he added. He too warned that the crisis was hampering the fight against Islamic State.

EU foreign ministers will hold emergency talks on the Iran crisis Friday to discuss what the bloc can do to reduce tensions.

‘Violation of… sovereignty’

Iraq’s prime minister’s office said it had received an official message from Iran warning it of the missile attack just before it happened.

Iran had told premier Adel Abdel Mahdi that “the strike would be limited to where the US military was located in Iraq without specifying the locations”, said the statement from his office.

“Iraq rejects any violation of its sovereignty and attacks on its territory,” the premier’s office added.

Civilian flights rerouting

In the wake of the Iranian attack, a number of airlines said they were avoiding Iranian and Iraqi airspace.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said it was banning US-registered carriers from flying over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf.

Its Russian counterpart, the Federal Air Transport Agency, recommended airlines avoid the air space over Iran, Iraq and the Persian and Oman Gulfs.

Iran, Iraq and US: Timeline Since Soleimani Killing

 

 

Here is a recap of events since the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by the US on January 3, which escalated tensions between Tehran and Washington:

US assassinates Soleimani

On January 3 a US drone strike on Baghdad’s international airport kills Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations arm, the Quds Force.

Also among the dead is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of the Tehran-backed Iraqi paramilitary network Hashed al-Shaabi.

The Pentagon confirms Trump ordered Soleimani’s assassination while the US embassy in Baghdad urges all Americans to leave Iraq “immediately”.

The killing comes days after thousands of pro-Iranian supporters stormed the US embassy in Baghdad, chanting “Death to America!”, angered by US strikes against Hashed bases in Iraq.

Those US strikes, on December 29, had been in retaliation for rocket attacks against US interests in Iraq in which a US civilian contractor was killed.

Iran calls for revenge

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promises “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death.

In Iraq caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi warns the US strike will “spark a devastating war in Iraq”, while President Barham Saleh pleads for “voices of reason” to prevail.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tells CNN Soleimani had been planning imminent action “that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk”.

A Pentagon official says the US is deploying up to 3,500 more troops to the Middle East.

Trump threatens 52 Iran sites

On January 4 Trump warns the US is targeting 52 sites in Iran and will hit them “very fast and very hard” if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets.

He says sites “important to… Iranian culture” are on the list.

The next day Pompeo insists any US military action against Iran will conform to international law after Trump is accused of threatening a war crime by declaring cultural sites as potential targets.

Nuclear deal unravels further

On January 5, Iran announces its fifth step back from the nuclear deal with world powers agreed in 2015, saying it will forgo a “limit on the number of centrifuges”.

Since May 2019 Iran has gradually freed itself from commitments to which it had subscribed, in response to the unilateral withdrawal a year earlier of the US which reinstated economic sanctions against Tehran.

Funeral turns deadly

After days of mourning for Soleimani in Iraq and Iran, a stampede during a massive funeral procession in Iran kills more than 50 people.

In Baghdad, Mahdi confirms he has received what the US called a draft letter describing steps its military would take to “move out” of Iraq.

In Washington, US officials scramble to deny the idea, calling the letter a mistakenly released draft.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says the Pentagon’s “policy has not changed. We are not leaving Iraq”.

Iran strikes back

Iran launches a volley of missiles early Wednesday at Iraqi bases housing US and other coalition troops.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the strikes are a “slap in the face” for the United States and revenge for Soleimani’s death is yet to come.

Iraq’s military said it sustained no casualties, and US President Donald Trump said initial casualty assessments indicated “all is well”.

Iran Threatens To Attack Israel And US Allies

Protesters hold pictures of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, during a demonstration outside the US consulate in Istanbul, on January 5, 2020, two days after top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed by a US drone strike.

 

 

Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday threatened to attack the US and its allies after Tehran said it carried out a night-time missile strike against US forces in Iraq.

The group urged Washington to recall its troops from the region “in order to avoid further losses and not to allow the lives of their soldiers to be further threatened by the ever-growing hatred” of the US.

More details shortly.