New armed group threatens attacks on US interests in Iraq
A previously unknown armed group in Iraq has claimed responsibility for an attack on a military base over the weekend and threatened to continue rocket attacks against US interests if American forces do not leave the country.
The group, calling itself the Revolutionary League and using imagery similar to the Lebanese Hezbollah and other armed groups in Iraq, released its second video statement on Wednesday describing the attacks on Camp Taji and the Basmaya base as a "simple message" to the Americans.
In the video, a masked man holding an AK-47 rifle with the Iraqi flag as a backdrop says his group's "victorious, blooming, full of pride and dignity arsenal" had many more "long-range weapons that can punish you in the land of your spoiled child Israel".
"According to all this, we advise Mr Trump and the friends of all who were killed earlier - Sergeant Marshal Roberts and Juan Mendez from Aviation Regiment 227 in Fort Hood Texas - to leave vertically, before we force them to leave horizontally," he said.
Following the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis in January by a US air strike, Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made a similar threat, saying US troops have "arrived vertically, and will return horizontally", in a suggestion that American soldiers will exit the region in coffins.
US Air Force Staff Sergeant Marshal Roberts and US Army Specialist Juan Miguel Mendez were both killed on 11 March after rockets struck the Taji air base 20 miles north of Baghdad.
The attack also killed a British soldier, Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, a 26-year-old reservist with the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry.
The Revolutionary League initially claimed responsibility for the attacks in a video on Sunday.
Rockets also struck Basmaya base south of Baghdad early Tuesday morning, causing no injuries. Later that evening, another set of rockets landed near the capital's high-security Green Zone, in which embassies including the US mission are located.
Attacks on US forces
A variety of armed groups in Iraq have been threatening escalation against US interests in the country since the assassinations of Soleimani and Mohandis.
Washington had previously placed blame for the rocket attacks on Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-backed armed group regarded as a terrorist organisation by the US.
The group, like many other paramilitary units, is a member of Hashd al-Shaabi, a set of irregular units that receive funding from the Iraqi state.
Sources in the US-led coalition on Tuesday said they would be redeploying hundreds of troops from bases in Iraq, sending some of them outside the country, but denied it was in response to the rocket attacks.
Writing on Twitter, analyst Sajad Jiyad suggested the Revolutionary League had been created to put distance between the state-backed Hashd al-Shaabi and the attacks.
"This group may contain current or former [Hashd] members, but more likely not," he wrote.
"The aim is to carry out an asymmetric campaign against the US independent of the other groups, avoiding pressure on the PMF [Popular Mobilisation Forces] and creating space and plausible deniability."