Exxon workers evacuated amid spate of attacks on US interests in Iraq
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Exxon workers evacuated amid spate of attacks on US interests in Iraq

US-Iran tensions spike as five US-linked sites attacked within five days, apparently from Shiite areas

Iraqi soldiers guard the entry of the Zubair oil field after a Katyusha rocket hit a drilling company in the Burjesiya area, a key oil-producing region hosting various Iraqi and foreign companies including US giant Exxon Mobil, north of the Iraqi city of Basra on June 19, 2019. (Hussein Faleh/AFP)
Iraqi soldiers guard the entry of the Zubair oil field after a Katyusha rocket hit a drilling company in the Burjesiya area, a key oil-producing region hosting various Iraqi and foreign companies including US giant Exxon Mobil, north of the Iraqi city of Basra on June 19, 2019. (Hussein Faleh/AFP)

An Iraqi intelligence officer said Wednesday that 40 workers for the energy giant Exxon Mobil were being evacuated from an oil-drilling site in southern Iraq after they came under rocket fire, amid increasing attacks on US interests in the country.

The officer told The Associated Press that security reinforcements have been deployed to the site after a rocket hit before dawn Wednesday near the location of the Iraqi workers, wounding three.

Iraqi officials said a Katyusha rocket hit the site in southern Basra province, striking a camp housing workers for Exxon Mobil and other foreign companies.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to brief the press.

The official said that immediately after the attack, 16 Exxon Mobil workers were evacuated. Another 24 workers were later evacuated.

US assets in Iraq have been targeted at least five times in as many days, officials said Wednesday, amid a tense standoff between Baghdad’s key allies, Washington and Tehran.

Iraqis inspect the damage at a drilling facility that was hit by a Katyusha rocket in the Burjesiya area, a key oil-producing region hosting various Iraqi and foreign companies including US giant Exxon Mobil, north of the Iraqi city of Basra on June 19, 2019. (Hussein Faleh/AFP)

The attacks follow a series of operations against tankers in highly sensitive Gulf waters which the US has blamed on Iran, raising fears of regional conflict.

In Baghdad, officials have voiced fears that a proxy conflict between the bitter enemies could play out in Iraq, where political and armed groups routinely accuse each other of being agents for foreign states.

On Wednesday at dawn, “a Katyusha rocket fell on an Iraqi drilling company in the Burjesiya area near Basra, wounding three people according to an initial assessment,” Iraqi military command said in a statement of the Exxon Mobil attack.

Oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told AFP that those wounded were all Iraqis.

Burjesiya is a complex near southern Iraq’s main city, in a key oil-producing region hosting various Iraqi and foreign companies, including Exxon Mobil.

The firm had already withdrawn 83 non-Iraqi employees from a nearby oil field in mid-May after Washington pulled non-essential staff from its Baghdad embassy, citing threats from Iranian-linked armed groups.

File photo of Iraqi laborers at the Rumaila oil refinery in Zubair near the city of Basra, Iraq on December 13, 2009. (AP/Nabil al-Jurani, File)

The company’s staffers have since returned.

Burjesiya is several kilometers from oil wells, but the attack had “no impact on production,” Jihad said.

Hours before the Burjesiya incident, the Iraqi military announced that an improvised rocket had hit a regional command base in the northern city of Mosul, where American troops are reportedly deployed.

And on Monday evening, three Katyusha rockets hit the Taji army base, which hosts both Iraqi and foreign troops, including Americans.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but experts say they appear to have been fired from Shiite-majority areas north of Baghdad.

That would appear to implicate pro-Iranian Shiite armed groups, as opposed to Sunni jihadists who continue to carry out hit-and-run attacks despite the elimination of the Islamic State group’s “caliphate.”

In this photo from July 1, 2016, members of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq paramilitary group take part in a Quds Day march in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

An Iraqi official speaking on condition of anonymity said rocket fire had also targeted a Baghdad airbase on Monday.

On Friday evening, “three mortar rounds hit the Balad airbase (north of Baghdad), starting a fire,” the same source said.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said he had “ordered all forces to take all necessary measures” to prevent further rocket attacks.

“These actions disrupt the political situation and give a distorted picture of the security situation,” he said.

Baghdad has sought to show a return to stability after years of war.

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