US warnings over spate of Iranian-backed rocket attacks on its bases in Iraq

Abbie Cheeseman
Al Asad air base, Iraq, which President Trump visited last year, is one of the US bases targeted recently with rockets by Iranian-armed militias - AP

Attacks on bases hosting US-led coalition forces by Iranian-armed militias are heading towards a red line for the coalition, who would respond with such force that “no one would like the outcome,” a senior US official warned on Wednesday.

Just hours later a further two rockets hit near the military section of Baghdad airport.

The attack is the tenth of its type since October, targeting joint US-Iraqi military facilities that host forces from the US-led coalition to defeat Isil.  

Speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, the US official reportedly said that while there were no claims of responsibility for the attacks, intelligence and forensic analyses indicated Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia groups are behind them.

The Iraqi paramilitary groups and the US are trading blame on the series of attacks.

“We’re waiting for full evidence...If past is prologue, I’d say there’s a good chance it was Iran that’s behind it,” David Schenker, the US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters last Friday. Two further attacks have happened since.

The rocket attacks come amid US accusations that Iran has capitalised on the continued unrest in Iraq to secretly move short-range ballistic missiles into the country.

The Trump administration hit Iran with fresh sanctions on Wednesday in an effort to intensify their “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. 

The sanctions target several transportation firms in the Islamic Republic, including the state-shipping line, as well as a China-based company that has been involved in delivering missile parts to Iran. 

Piling economic sanctions and ramped up rhetoric have been a pillar of the “maximum pressure” campaign since Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018.

Iran has since taken several major steps away from the deal amid fears of a war with the US, further exacerbating tensions. 

An attack on Monday saw four Katyusha rockets hit a base near Baghdad airport, wounding five members of Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service. A larger 240-millimetre rocket was used in a similar attack near the airport on Friday, which is thought to have not been used in Iraq since 2011.