Rockets strike air base in Iraq hosting American troops

Iraq base attacked with rockets

At least 10 rockets have targeted an Iraqi military base in the west of the country which hosts US-led coalition troops, officials have said.

The rockets struck Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province at 7.20am local time (4.20am GMT), Col Wayne Marotto said.

The Iraqi military later released a statement saying that the attack did not cause significant losses and that security forces had found the launch pad used for the missiles. Sources said the material was discovered in the al-Baghdadi area of Anbar.

The incident marks the first attack since the US struck Iran-aligned militia targets along the Iraq-Syria border last week.

That strike, which killed one militiaman, stoked fears of a possible repeat of a series of tit-for-tat attacks that escalated last year, culminating in the US-directed drone strike that killed Iranian general Qassim Soleimani outside Baghdad airport.

Wednesday’s attack targeted the same base where Iran struck with a barrage of missiles in January last year in retaliation for the killing of Gen Soleimani. Dozens of US service members were injured.

British Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Hickey condemned the attack, saying it undermined the ongoing fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) 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 destabilise Iraq.”

Denmark, which like the US and Britain also has troops at the base, said coalition forces at Ain al-Asad were helping to bring stability and security to the country.

“Despicable attacks against Ain al-Asad base in #Iraq are completely unacceptable,” Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod tweeted.

The Danish armed forces said two Danes, who were in the camp at the time of the attack, were unharmed.

The incident comes two days before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Iraq in a much-anticipated trip that will include Baghdad, southern Iraq and in the northern city of Irbil.

Last week’s US strike along the border had been in response to a spate of rocket attacks that targeted the American presence, including one that killed a coalition contractor from the Philippines outside Irbil airport.

After that attack, the Pentagon said the strike was a “proportionate military response” taken after consulting coalition partners.

Col Marotto said the Iraqi security forces were leading an investigation into the attack on Ain al-Asad.

US troops in Iraq significantly decreased their presence in the country last year under the Trump administration.

The forces withdrew from several Iraqi based across the country to consolidate chiefly in Ain al-Asad and Baghad.

Frequent rocket attacks targeting the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the US Embassy, during Donald Trump’s time in office frustrated the administration, leading to threats of embassy closure and escalatory strikes.

It was later confirmed that a US contractor had died during the attack.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the contractor “suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering” and died shortly afterwards.

He said no service members had been injured and all were accounted for.

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