Four injured as rockets hit Iraq military base hosting US troops

Four rockets hit Iraq airbase hosting US troops

Samarra: 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 per cent of the US advisers, and employees of Sallyport and Lockheed Martin who are specialised in aircraft maintenance, have withdrawn to Taji and Erbil after threats," one of the sources said.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.

“Did not aim to kill US troops”

Rockets hit Iraq airbase hosting US troops

Iran's Revolutionary Guards said Sunday it did not aim to kill US troops when it fired a wave of missiles last week at Iraqi bases hosting American forces.

"Our aim was not really to kill enemy soldiers. That was not important," the Guards' commander, Hossein Salami, told parliament, referring to last Wednesday's missile operation launched to avenge the killing of a top Iranian general.

“Attack was imminent”

Rockets hit Iraq airbase hosting US troops

Earlier, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he shared President Donald Trump and his national security team's view that the Iranians were planning to attack American embassies in the Gulf.

“Soleimani orchestrated, resourced, directed the attacks, escalating up to December 1, that killed an American," Esper said.

"He orchestrated the siege on the US Embassy in Baghdad, and he was planning this much broader plot in multiple countries that would be bigger in scale, and that likely would have taken us to open hostility with Iran. In fact, a very, very senior intelligence community official said to us that the risk of inaction is greater than risk of action.

Alleging that Iran has been attacking the United States through its proxy militias for 40 years now, Esper said last summer the US had to deploy 14,000 additional soldiers to the region since May.

"They shot down an armed drone. They were striking Saudi Aramco oil fields in the fall. They were seizing tankers. The scale and scope of attacks against our forces in late fall had escalated considerably," he said.

(More details awaited)

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