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Iraq: Drone attack on US forces foiled west of Baghdad

Targeting of al-Asad Airbase was the second such attack in 24 hours against the US-led coalition in the country
A photo purportedly of a drone that was downed as it targeted al-Asad Airbase in Iraq (social media)

Two armed drones targeting an air base in western Iraq were shot down on Tuesday, an official of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State said. 

"Two fixed-wing drones rigged with explosives were engaged and destroyed by defensive capabilities at the Iraqi al-Asad Airbase early this morning," the official said. 

"The attempted attack was unsuccessful. All forces are accounted for." 

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It is the second such attack in 24 hours targeting the coalition in Iraq. 

On Monday, the coalition shot down two armed drones targeting its compound at Baghdad International Airport.

The attacks come as Tehran and its allies across the Middle East held emotional commemorations marking the second anniversary on Monday of the assassination of Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday that former US President Donald Trump, who ordered the strike, must face trial for the killing or Tehran would take revenge.

Thrown a lifeline

Coalition troops switched to a training and advisory role with the end of their combat mission early last month.

"While we have ended our combat mission, we maintain the inherent right of self-defence," the official said.

"These are attacks against Iraqi installations and an attack against the Iraqi people and the military that protects them.

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"We maintain a minimal footprint on Iraqi bases, the coalition no longer has its own bases in Iraq."

Last month, political and security leaders told Middle East Eye that Iranian-backed Shia armed factions had been thrown a lifeline by US forces not fully withdrawing from Iraq by the end of the year.

In late July, the Iraqi government said it had concluded an agreement with Washington to withdraw US combat forces by the end of 2021. 

But on the ground, it is becoming increasingly clear that the US is redeploying its forces, rather than withdrawing.

A number of armed factions, led by Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataeb Hezbollah, had openly announced that they would resume their military operations from 1 January, and would target all US interests in Iraq, including military sites and diplomatic headquarters across the country.

Currently, the Iranian-backed factions are at a low. They performed dreadfully in October’s parliamentary elections, and have been put under pressure after being accused of trying to assassinate Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in November.

But the Iraqi government’s “manipulation of vocabulary” over the so-called “withdrawal”, and its failure to demand a proper US exit as promised, have brought these factions back to the fore and strengthened their position, political leaders and armed faction commanders told MEE.

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