Rockets hit Iraq air base that houses US troops


BAGHDAD (AP) – At least 10 rockets hit a base housing US and coalition soldiers in western Iraq on Wednesday, military officials said. It was not known if there were casualties, but the Iraqi military said there were no significant losses.

It was the first attack of its kind since the United States struck targets of Iran-aligned militias along the Iraq-Syrian border last week, killing one militiaman and stoking fears of another cycle of tit-for-tat attacks as it happened last year. Those attacks culminated in the US drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad.

No one claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, which comes two days before Pope Francis’ scheduled visit to the country amid security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.. The long-awaited trip will include stops in Baghdad, southern Iraq and the northern city of Irbil.

The rockets hit the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province early in the morning, said the spokesman for the US-led coalition, Colonel Wayne Marotto. In addition to American troops, the Danes and the British are among those stationed at the base. It is the same base that Iran struck with a barrage of missiles in January last year in retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination. Dozens of US service members suffered concussions in that attack.

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The Iraqi army issued a statement saying that Wednesday’s attack did not cause significant losses and that security forces had found the launch pad used for the rockets: a truck. Video from the site shows a burning truck in a desert area.

British Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Hickey condemned the attack and said it undermined the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group. “Coalition forces are in Iraq to fight Daesh at the invitation of the Iraqi government,” he tweeted, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “These terrorist attacks undermine the fight against Daesh and destabilize Iraq.”

Denmark said coalition forces on the base were helping to bring stability and security to the country.

“The despicable attacks on Ain al-Asad’s base in #Iraq are completely unacceptable,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod tweeted. The Danish armed forces said that two Danes who were on the base at the time of the attack are unharmed.

Last week’s US attack along the border was in response to a series of rocket attacks on the US presence, including one that killed a Philippine coalition contractor outside Irbil airport.

After that attack, the Pentagon said the attack was a “proportionate military response.”

Marotto, the coalition spokesman, said Iraqi security forces were leading an investigation into the attack.

Frequent rocket attacks on the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy, ​​during Donald Trump’s presidency frustrated the administration, prompting threats to close the embassy and intensified strikes. Those attacks have increased again in recent weeks, since President Joe Biden took office, following a hiatus during the transition period.

US troops in Iraq significantly decreased their presence in the country last year and withdrew from various Iraqi bases to consolidate mainly in Ain al-Assad, Baghdad and Irbil.

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Associated Press journalist Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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