Armed drones targeting Baghdad compound shot down on anniversary of Soleimani death

Remnants of two craft aimed at US-led coalition carried the message: ‘Commanders’ revenge operations’

Supporters and members of the Popular Mobilization Forces hold posters of a powerful Iranian general and a top Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 1, 2022. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)
Supporters and members of the Popular Mobilization Forces hold posters of a powerful Iranian general and a top Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 1, 2022. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFP) — The US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq on Monday shot down two armed drones targeting a compound at Baghdad airport hosting its personnel, a coalition official said.

The incident, which was not claimed by any group, came two years after a US drone strike near the airport killed Iran’s revered General Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant.

“Two fixed-wing suicide drones, or improvised cruise missiles, attempted to attack Baghdad Airport this morning at approximately 4:30 a.m.” (0130 GMT), the official told AFP.

A counter-rocket, artillery and mortar, or C-RAM, system “at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center engaged them and they were shot down without incident,” added the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The BDSC compound houses “a very small number of coalition troops who are not in a combat role,” the source said, describing them as logistical troops, contractors and civilian personnel.

The January 3, 2020, US strike killed Soleimani — who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards — and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy leader of the Hashed al-Shaabi coalition of armed groups.

Photos obtained by AFP from the coalition official show remains of one of the projectiles from Monday’s attempted strike, with the message “Commanders’ revenge operations” written on it.

“The Iraqis have opened an investigation,” the coalition source said. “There is no damage, but this is a civilian airport, it is very dangerous to launch this type of attack.”

Missile and drone attacks

The nighttime strike two years ago, ordered by then-US president Donald Trump, hit a car in which Soleimani and Muhandis were traveling on the edge of the airport.

The Hashed — a coalition of former paramilitary groups now integrated into the Iraqi state security apparatus — held a candlelight vigil Sunday at the airport for the two men killed.

The US said at the time that Soleimani was planning imminent action against US personnel in Iraq, a country long torn between the competing demands of its principal allies Washington and Tehran.

Five days after his killing, Iran fired missiles at an airbase in Iraq housing US troops and another near Erbil in the country’s north. Since then dozens of rockets and roadside bombs have targeted US security, military and diplomatic sites across Iraq.

Popular Mobilization Forces and their supporters light candles at Baghdad’s international airport on the first anniversary of the killing of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the PMF and Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds forces, on Saturday, January 2, 2021. (Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Western officials have blamed hardline pro-Iran factions for the attacks, which have never been claimed.

The Hashed has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of US troops deployed in Iraq as part of the coalition.

The US-led coalition on December 9 declared it had finished its combat mission in Iraq and that its around 2,500 troops would shift to a purely training and advisory role.

IS, which established a so-called caliphate across swaths of Syria and Iraq from 2014, was defeated in Iraq in 2017 by national forces and the coalition that has included more than 80 countries.

However, IS remnants still carry out attacks against security forces and civilians.

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