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Drone attacks Iraqi base hosting US troops, damaging hanger; no casualties

Strike comes days after 2 rockets hit unoccupied part of Ain al-Asad airbase; no claim of responsibility

Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq, December 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)
Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq, December 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)

A drone strike early on Saturday targeted a military base in Iraq that hosts US troops, causing only minor damage and no casualties, Iraq’s military and the US-led coalition said.

The pre-dawn attack damaged a hangar at the Ain Al-Asad base, tweeted coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto. He said the attack was under investigation. An Iraqi military statement also said no losses were reported.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The US has blamed Iran-backed militia groups for previous attacks, most of them rocket attacks that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and military bases across Iraq.

A picture taken on January 13, 2020, during a press tour organized by the US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group, shows a view inside Ain al-Asad military airbase housing US and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar (Ayman Henna / AFP)

Drone strikes are less common. In mid-April, an explosive-laden drone targeted the military section of the international airport in Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region, causing no casualties or damages. That base also hosts US troops.

The attack came just days after the Iraqi army said two rockets were fired at the same base, in the third such attack in three days and as a US government delegation is visiting the country.

The two rockets fell on an unoccupied segment of the Ain al-Asad airbase, “without causing damage or casualties,” the army said.

The rocket attack followed one against an airbase at Baghdad airport housing US-led coalition troops on Sunday night, and another against Balad airbase, which hosts US contractors, north of the capital on Monday night.

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

Two foreign contractors, one Iraqi contractor and eight Iraqi civilians have been killed in the attacks.

Dozens of other attacks were carried out in Iraq from autumn 2019 during the Trump administration. The operations are sometimes claimed by obscure groups that experts say are smokescreens for Iran-backed organizations long present in Iraq.

The attacks have been increasingly frequent since a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a non-binding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.

The attacks come at a sensitive time as Tehran is engaged in talks with world powers aimed at bringing the US back into a 2015 nuclear deal. The agreement, which curbs Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, has been on life support since Trump withdrew in 2018.

The Biden administration has resumed strategic talks with Baghdad, initiated under President Donald Trump, in which the future of US troop presence in Iraq is a central point of discussion.

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