Rockets Hit Baghdad Airport Close To US Troops

Iraqi Flag

 

The Iraqi army said Monday a rocket had struck within the grounds of Baghdad airport, where US forces are deployed, in another attack against American interests in Iraq.

While a wave of similar attacks that began in October has since eased, the latest strike came three days ahead of US-Iraqi talks as part of a “strategic dialogue” including on future military cooperation.

A security official told AFP that the attack caused “no casualties or damage”.

Baghdad International Airport is closed under coronavirus lockdown measures in Iraq, which has reported some 13,000 cases including 400 deaths from the disease.

Monday’s rocket fire was the 29th such attack against American troops or diplomats since October.

None of the attacks have been claimed, but Washington has accused armed groups backed by its arch-enemy and Iraq’s neighbour, Iran.

The US withdrew its forces from Iraq in 2011, eight years after leading the invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and set off a bitter sectarian conflict.

Thousands of American soldiers were redeployed to the country from 2014 onwards as part of a coalition battling the Islamic State group.

In January a US drone killed Iran’s powerful military commander Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad airport, sparking a new escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran.

In response, Baghdad’s parliament voted to expel all foreign soldiers from Iraqi territory, but the decision was never implemented.

AFP

Iraq On Total Lockdown Until March 28 Over Coronavirus

A father walks with his child along a deserted street during a curfew imposed as a measure to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus in Iraq’s southern city of Basra on March 21, 2020. – Basra governor announced a curfew in the southern province bordering Iran from Monday until Sunday morning. All together, more than half of the 18 Iraqi provinces announced curfews for several days in hope it could contain the new coronavirus outbreak. Hussein FALEH / AFP.

 

Iraq on Sunday imposed a total nationwide lockdown until March 28 to fight the novel coronavirus, as the number of cases grew and the death toll climbed to 20.

Most of Iraq’s 18 provinces had so far imposed their own local curfews but the new measures would include the whole of the country, according to a new decision by the government’s crisis cell.

Schools, universities and other gathering places would remain closed, as would the country’s multiple international airports, it said in a statement seen by AFP.

Many had feared a potential influx of cases from neighbouring Iran, where 1,685 people have died after contracting the COVID-19 respiratory illness, according to the latest official toll Sunday.

Iraq first shut its 1,500-kilometre border with Iran about a month ago and deployed troops to enforce the decision.

It has logged a total of 233 coronavirus cases and recorded 20 deaths, but there are concerns that many more are going undetected as only 2,000 people of the country’s 40-million population have been tested so far.

Authorities have struggled to enforce previous curfews.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims turned out in Baghdad and other cities in the south of the country to commemorate the death of a revered Muslim imam.

READ ALSO: Emirates To Suspend All Passenger Flights From March 25

And Moqtada Sadr, a populist cleric with a cult-like following, has continued to hold mass prayers in his hometown of Kufa south of Baghdad and in the capital’s densely-populated Sadr City.

Health Minister Jaafar Allawi sent Sadr a personal letter in a bid to convince him to call off his weekly prayers, which present an enormous contamination risk.

Allawi has expressed fears that a wider outbreak would overwhelm the country’s health system, which already faces shortages in equipment, medicine and staff after decades of conflict and little investment by national authorities.

Last week, he said he had not been granted his request for $5 million in emergency funds from the federal government.

Iraq is OPEC’s second-biggest crude producer, and falling oil prices have put the country in a bind as more than 90 percent of its state budget is funded by oil revenues.

AFP

Three Days After Attack, Fresh Rockets Hit Iraq Base Housing US Troops

Iraq on the map

 

A fresh spate of rockets targeted an Iraqi base north of Baghdad on Saturday where foreign troops are deployed, Iraqi and US security sources told AFP, in a rare daytime attack.

It was the 23rd such attack since late October on installations across Iraq where American troops and diplomats are based, with the latest rounds growing deadlier.

None of the attacks has ever been claimed but the US has blamed hardline elements of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a network of armed groups incorporated into the Iraqi state.

Several Katyusha rockets were fired at the Taji airbase on Saturday, Iraqi and US military officials said.

There was no immediate information on casualties.

The US-led coalition’s surveillance capabilities have been impaired by cloudy weather in recent days, which the US official said may have contributed to the attackers’ readiness to launch the rockets during the day instead of under the cover of night.

Taji is overcrowded with members of the US-led coalition helping Iraq fight jihadist remnants, after units were moved to the air base from other installations.

It came three days after a similar attack on the base killed two American military personnel and a British soldier — the deadliest such incident at an Iraqi base in years.

The US responded Friday with air strikes on arms depots it said were used by Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-aligned faction within the Hashed.

At least five members of Iraq’s security forces and one civilian were killed, none of them members of the Hashed, according to Iraq’s military.

Iraq has long feared it would get caught in the spiralling tensions between Iran and the US, its two main allies.

They dramatically spiked in late 2019 when a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a separate base in northern Iraq, leading to retaliatory American strikes on Kataeb Hezbollah.

Days later, a US drone strike killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and Hashed deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Iraq’s parliament then voted to oust all foreign troops from the country, but the decision has not yet been implemented.

AFP

US, UK Troops Among Three Dead In Iraq Rocket Attack

Iraq on the Map

 

An American soldier and a British soldier, as well as one US contractor, were killed Wednesday when rockets hit an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad, a US military official said.

It was the deadliest attack on an installation hosting foreign troops in several years and comes after a spate of rocket attacks targeting US troops across Iraq as well as the US embassy in Baghdad.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Washington has blamed Iran-backed factions for similar attacks.

AFP

Coronavirus: Iraq Shut Schools, Varsities After Issuing Travel Ban

A member of the Iraqi civil defense sprays disinfectant on and around a building where Islamic students are quarantined for having had contact with Iraq’s first confirmed case of novel coronavirus infection, in the central holy city of Najaf, on February 26, 2020.  AFP

 

Iraq announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the capital Baghdad on Thursday, taking nationwide infections to six and raising concerns about the capacity of the dilapidated health system to respond.

The government announced sweeping measures late Wednesday to try to contain the spread of the virus, ordering the closure of schools and universities, cafes, cinemas and other public spaces until March 7.

It also banned travel to or from some of the worst affected countries, including China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Iraq had already blocked entry for foreigners travelling from neighbouring Iran, the main source of coronavirus infections in the Middle East, or China, where COVID-19 originated.

The health ministry said the first case in Baghdad was in a young man who had recently returned from Iran.

Iran has reported 19 fatalities from 139 infections — the highest death toll outside China.

The patient was placed under quarantine in a Baghdad hospital and is currently “in good health,” it said in a statement.

Iraq’s six confirmed cases have all been traced to neighbouring Iran, a popular tourism destination for Iraqis, who also visit the country to receive medical treatment.

Many hospitals in Iraq are poorly equipped or in disrepair and there are fewer than 10 doctors for every 10,000 people, the World Health Organization says.

Baghdad is the Arab world’s second-most populous city after the Egyptian capital Cairo.

The health ministry advised against large gatherings, urging officials to take steps to “restrict intermixing,” a move that may deal a blow to anti-government protests that have gripped Baghdad and southern Iraq since October.

AFP

Iraq Shuts Schools, Shrines Over Coronavirus

Iraqi Flag

 

Shrines have shuttered, streets are deserted and schools closed in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf, where only pharmacies draw crowds after a novel coronavirus case triggered widespread panic.

Najaf is popular among Shiite Muslim pilgrims from Iran, which has recorded 15 deaths from COVID-19, the highest death toll outside China, the epidemic’s epicentre.

It is also where Iraq confirmed its first novel coronavirus infection in an Iranian national studying in a Shiite seminary in the city, located around 200 kilometres (124 miles) from Baghdad.

Since he was diagnosed on Monday, authorities have beefed up precautionary measures.

Thirteen students who attended the same seminary school as the patient are being checked for the virus, Najaf governor Louai al-Yasseri told AFP.

In an exceptionally rare move, religious officials on Tuesday closed down the Imam Ali mausoleum in Najaf, allowing visitors access only to its surroundings.

The mausoleum where the Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law is buried is one of the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims and is frequented yearly by millions of pilgrims.

Visitors, including millions of Iranians, kiss and caress the tomb, making the area especially vulnerable to contamination.

Amid the growing alarm, students remained at home on Tuesday after schools and universities temporarily closed their doors.

“The 1,028 schools in Najaf province have closed following the detection of the first novel coronavirus case,” said a spokesman for the province’s education department.

The health ministry said this would remain the case for at least 10 days.

Najaf is home to the Wadi al-Salam (Valley of Peace) cemetery, the world’s largest, where millions of people from Iraq’s Shiite majority are buried.

The health ministry on Tuesday advised against non-essential travel to Najaf and urged citizens to refrain from holding large gatherings.

Inside the city, life has come to a stand-still, according an AFP correspondent.

The few that brave the streets seek out pharmacies to purchase disinfectants and medical masks which have become more expensive and increasingly difficult to find.

“There have been no masks for two days. How will I protect my children and my wife,” laments Hussam al-Khafaji, 29.

“Either there are no masks or they sell at four dollars,” nearly four times the price before the outbreak, he told AFP from outside a pharmacy in central Najaf.

With most people staying indoors, the main anti-government protest camp in Najaf was left nearly deserted.

Demonstrators, who had gathered there daily since rallies in the capital and the south began in October, refrained from protesting over fears of a coronavirus outbreak among their ranks.

AFP

Iraq Confirms First Coronavirus Case

This picture taken on February 24, 2020 shows a view outside the quarantine zone at the hospital in the central Iraqi holy shrine city of Najaf where the first case of first case of coronavirus COVID-19 documented in Iraq is being treated.  Haidar HAMDANI / AFP

 

Iraq on Monday confirmed its first novel coronavirus infection in an Iranian national studying in the southern shrine city of Najaf, health officials said.

The country, whose healthcare system is run down, often hosts pilgrims and religious students from Iran, where 12 people have died since a coronavirus outbreak there was first reported last week.

Iraq had blocked travel to and from the Islamic republic days before announcing a seminary student in Najaf was the country’s first confirmed case.

Najaf’s provincial health authority said the Iranian national had entered “before the ban was declared”.

An AFP correspondent said the man is being quarantined in a hospital in the city.

The education directorate in Najaf said official mid-year exams, which had already started, would be cancelled until further notice to protect students.

The governor of Salaheddin, north of Baghdad, said that non-Iraqis would not be allowed into the province ahead of a religious pilgrimage to Shiite shrines in the area planned for Tuesday.

The deaths from the COVID-19 virus in Iran were the first in the Middle East and the country’s toll is now the highest outside China, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Chinese nationals have been barred from entering Iraq, despite it hosting several Chinese oil companies.

Iraq also closed the only border crossing with Kuwait at Safwan, south of Basra, late Sunday evening, after Kuwait confirmed multiple COVID-19 cases.

Concern has spread over social media networks in Iraq, with users expressing fears that the country cannot accommodate a coronavirus outbreak.

Many hospitals in Iraq are poorly equipped or in disrepair and there are less than 10 doctors for every 10,000 people, the World Health Organization says.

The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries since it emerged in December and is causing mounting alarm due to new outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

AFP

Rocket Hits Iraq Base Housing US Troops

 

A rocket attack on Thursday night slammed into an Iraqi base in the remote province of Kirkuk where American troops are stationed, Iraqi and US security sources told AFP. 

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

It was the first attack on the K1 base since December 27, when a volley of around 30 rockets killed a US contractor there, which Washington blamed on Kataeb Hezbollah, a hardline Iraqi military faction close to Iran.

The US then carried out retaliatory strikes that left 25 Kataeb Hezbollah fighters dead and, days later, killed Iran’s pointman on Iraqi affairs Qasem Soleimani.

AFP

Over 100 US Troops Suffered Brain Injury In Iran Attack – Pentagon

FILE PHOTO of US Troops.

 

More than 100 US troops sustained “mild” traumatic brain injury, far more than originally announced when Iran launched missiles at their base in Iraq last month, the Department of Defense said Monday.

“As of today, 109 US service members have been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury, or mTBI, an increase of 45 since the previous report,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Of them, 76 have returned to duty while most of the rest are still undergoing evaluation and treatment.

President Donald Trump had initially said that no Americans were injured in the strike on the Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq on the night of January 7-8, although authorities later reported that 11 troops were injured.

Iran fired ballistic missiles at the base to retaliate for the January 3 US drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani while he was in Baghdad.

Trump was understood to downplay the impact on US troops to help ratchet down tensions between the two countries, amid concerns that a full war could break out.

It was only a week later that reports surfaced that US troops had experienced concussions and other brain injuries.

But the US leader then dismissed the reported injuries as “headaches” and “not very serious.”

“We are grateful to the efforts of our medical professionals who have worked diligently to ensure the appropriate level of care for our service members, which has enabled nearly 70 per cent of those diagnosed to return to duty,” said Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah in a statement Monday.

“We must continue to address physical and mental health together,” she said.

AFP

Iraq Bars Foreigners From China Over Coronavirus Fears

Personnel in biological hazard suits await passengers evacuated from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the heart of a growing outbreak of the deadly 2019 Novel Coronavirus.
Matt HARTMAN / AFP

 

Iraq’s interior ministry announced on Sunday that it would not allow foreigners travelling from China to enter the country over fears of an outbreak of coronavirus.

In an online statement, the ministry said the step was “part of the protective measures taken by countries around the world to combat the new coronavirus, and out of a commitment to protect its citizens from its disastrous effects and negative consequences for public health and safety”.

Iraqi authorities said Friday they had not detected any coronavirus cases in Iraq or among Iraqi expatriates abroad.

Similar to the SARS pathogen, coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year and has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.

READ ALSO: Philippines Records First Coronavirus Death Outside China

It has infected nearly 14,500 people across China and more than 100 in 20 other countries, including the United States.

More than 300 people have died in China and on Sunday, the first foreign fatality was reported in the Philippines.

Last week, a spokesman for Iraq’s foreign ministry told AFP authorities were working to repatriate up to 50 Iraqi citizens -– students and their families –- from Wuhan.

Iraq has no direct flights from China but hundreds of Chinese nationals work on lucrative oil fields across the country, which is OPEC’s second-largest crude producer.

Iraq’s public health system has been ravaged by years of conflict and poor investment.

AFP

Three Rockets Hit US Embassy In Protest-Hit Iraqi Capital

 

Three rockets slammed into the US embassy in Iraq’s capital on Sunday in the first direct hit reported after months of close calls, as thousands of protesters kept up anti-government sit-ins across the country.

The attack marked a dangerous escalation in the spree of rocket attacks in recent months that have targeted the embassy or Iraqi military bases where American troops are deployed.

None of the attacks has been claimed but Washington has repeatedly blamed Iran-backed military factions in Iraq.

On Sunday, one rocket hit an embassy cafeteria at dinner time while two others landed nearby, a security source told AFP.

A senior Iraqi official told AFP at least one person was wounded, but it was not immediately clear how serious the injuries were and whether the person was an American national or an Iraqi staff member working at the mission.

The US embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The US State Department called on Iraq late on Sunday to “fulfil its obligations to protect our diplomatic facilities”.

The attack took place earlier in the day than usual, with AFP reporters hearing the booms on the western bank of the river Tigris at precisely 7:30 pm (1630 GMT).

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and Speaker of Parliament Mohammed Halbusi both condemned the incident, saying it risked dragging their homeland into war.

Iraq has already been dragged into a worrying tit-for-tat between the United States and Iran over the last month.

A similar attack on a northern Iraqi base killed an American contractor, and the US retaliated with a strike on an Iran-backed faction known as Kataeb Hezbollah.

Less than a week later, a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani outside the Baghdad airport — prompting Iran to fire ballistic missiles at an Iraqi base where US troops are stationed.

‘Only for you, Iraq!’

Some 5,200 Americans are stationed in Iraq to lead the global coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group, but the US strike on Baghdad has rallied top Iraqi figures around a joint call to order them out.

Vehemently anti-American cleric Moqtada Sadr organised a mass rally in Baghdad on Friday, where thousands of his supporters called for American troops to leave.

Sadr had previously backed separate anti-regime protests sweeping Iraq’s capital and south, even though he controls the largest bloc in parliament and top ministerial posts.

Bolstered by his own protest on Friday, Sadr announced he was dropping support for the youth-dominated reform campaign rocking the country since October.

His followers, widely regarded as the best-organised and well-stocked of the anti-government demonstrators, immediately began dismantling their tents and heading home.

Activists feared that without his political cover, authorities would move to crush their movement — and indeed, within hours, riot police tried to storm protest camps.

Those efforts continued into Sunday, with security forces using live rounds and tear gas to try to flush protesters out of squares and streets they had occupied for months.

One protester was shot dead in Baghdad and another in the flashpoint southern city of Nasiriyah, medical sources said, and dozens more were wounded across the country.

In the capital, riot police have tried to clear streets around the main protest camp of Tahrir Square but have yet to enter the symbolic area, where many protesters stood their ground even after tents there were dismantled.

Just after midnight in Nasiriyah, unknown assailants stormed the main protest camp in Habbubi Square and set the tents on fire, the flames lighting up the night sky, an AFP correspondent there said.

UN hails ‘Iraqi hopes’

Despite the renewed violence, thousands of students flooded the streets in the capital and across the south in a bid to keep national attention focused on their demands.

“Only for you, Iraq!” read a sign held by a young protester in the shrine city of Karbala, hinting at the movement’s insistence on not being affiliated with any political party or outside backer.

In Basra, hundreds of students gathered to condemn the riot police’s dismantling of their main protest camp the previous day, according to an AFP correspondent.

The youth-led protests erupted on October 1 in outrage over lack of jobs, poor services and rampant corruption before spiralling into calls for a government overhaul after they were met with violence.

More than 470 people have died, a vast majority of them demonstrators, since the rallies began.

Protesters are now demanding snap elections, the appointment of an independent premier and the prosecution of anyone implicated in corruption or recent bloodshed.

AFP

Three Rockets Fired Close To US Embassy In Baghdad

 

Three rockets hit near the US embassy in the Iraqi capital’s high-security Green Zone, security sources told AFP, with no immediate reports of casualties. 

Sirens could be heard across the zone immediately after the rockets made an impact.

The US has blamed Iran-backed paramilitary groups for a spate of similar attacks in recent months on the Green Zone, but there has never been a claim of responsibility.

AFP