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Iraq: Rockets target Baghdad airport base hosting US troops

The attack comes more than two weeks after Baghdad and Washington agreed on the withdrawal of US troops
An Iraqi soldier stands guard in front of a US military plane at the Qayyarah air base on 26 March 2020 (AFP)

Two rockets targeted an air base at Iraq's Baghdad International Airport hosting US soldiers on Sunday, in the second such attack in 10 days, the Iraqi army said. 

The military said a rocket was intercepted and downed near the airport by the C-RAM counter rocket, artillery and mortar system deployed to protect US troops in Iraq.

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There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which, according to the army, did not cause casualties.

Washington regularly blames Iran-linked Iraqi factions for such attacks on its troops and diplomats.

Last week, three rockets hit the sector of the Baghdad airport base housing Iraqi troops, wounding one soldier.

Since President Joe Biden took office in January, around 30 rocket or bomb attacks have targeted American interests in Iraq, including troops, the embassy or Iraqi supply convoys to foreign forces. 

On 18 April, two rockets crashed into the airport’s dormitory and a canteen run by US company Sallyport, killing eight Iraqi civilians and two foreign contractors.

The operations are sometimes claimed by Shia armed groups aligned with Iran, who are demanding the Biden administration set a pullout date for Iraq as it has for Afghanistan.

Time limits

Iraq and the United States in mid-April announced their agreement to withdraw US-led coalition troops according to timetables determined by joint technical military committees. 

The announcement of a third round of strategic dialogue between the two parties included an agreement to change the nature of the anti-Islamic State coalition’s mission from combat to advisory and training.

Setting time limits for the withdrawal and having Washington publicly commit to abiding by them would relieve the huge pressure on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government, giving him room to manoeuvre before parliamentary elections in October. 

The US has agreed to withdraw combat troops on condition that Iraq secures the protection of western diplomatic missions and coalition forces, Iraqi negotiators told Middle East Eye, in order to prove Baghdad can assure foreign officials’ security after the pullout.

While some saw the agreement as a step forward, a prominent commander of an Iranian-backed armed faction described it as a “deception”, with no concrete steps, no schedule for withdrawal and no real change in the coalition’s status.