Missiles hit near US embassy in Iraq, base housing troops after generals slain

No reports of casualties; Washington is bracing for Iranian retaliation after Tehran vowed to avenge death of Soleimani; top Iraqi paramilitary chief was also killed in strike

Iraqi counterterrorism forces stand guard in front of the US embassy in the capital Baghdad, on January 2, 2020 (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)
Iraqi counterterrorism forces stand guard in front of the US embassy in the capital Baghdad, on January 2, 2020 (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)

Two rockets hit Iraq’s Al-Balad air base Saturday, where US troops are stationed, while two mortars hit Baghdad’s Green Zone, a high-security enclave housing the US embassy, security sources said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in either attack.

The attacks came a day after a deadly American drone strike outside the Baghdad airport on Friday killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, top Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and a clutch of other Iranian and Iraqi figures.

In Baghdad, mortar rounds on Saturday evening hit the Green Zone, the high-security enclave where the US embassy is based, security sources said.

The Iraqi military said that one projectile hit inside the zone, while another landed close to the enclave.

Sirens rang out at the US compound, sources there told AFP.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the number two of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi, in a press conference during a visit to Basra, January 23, 2018. (HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI / AFP)

A pair of Katyusha rockets then hit the Balad airbase north of Baghdad, where American troops are based, security sources and the Iraqi military said.

Security sources there reported blaring sirens and said surveillance drones were sent above the base to locate the source of the rockets.

Analysts on Israel’s Channel 12 news said the strikes were likely a retaliation by Iraqi militias reacting to the death of Muhandis, rather than an Iranian response.

Kataeb Hezbollah, a hardline pro-Iran faction in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, urged Iraqi troops on Saturday to move away from US forces at military bases.

“We ask security forces in the country to get at least 1,000 meters away from US bases starting on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. (1400 GMT),” said the group.

The US embassy in Baghdad as well as the 5,200 American troops stationed across the country have faced a spate of rocket attacks in recent months that Washington has blamed on Iran and its allies in Iraq.

One attack last month killed a US contractor working in northern Iraq, prompting retaliatory American air strikes that killed 25 hardline fighters close to Iran.

NATO on Saturday said it has suspended a training mission for soldiers in the Iraqi army in the wake of the killing of Soleimani.

Protesters demonstrate over the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The military alliance said in a statement that even if the Canadian-led mission is to continue in the future, security concerns for its personnel were “paramount.”

“We continue to take all precautions necessary,” NATO spokesman Dylan White said in a statement. “NATO’s mission is continuing, but training activities are temporarily suspended.”

The Iraqi mission consists of several hundred staff from allied nations and non-NATO countries.

Tensions boiled over on Friday when the US struck Soleimani’s convoy as it drove out of the airport and US diplomats and troops across Iraq had been bracing themselves for more rocket attacks.

Mourners wave the national flag and the Hashed al-Shaabi flag as they carry the portrait Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani during a funeral procession in Kadhimiya, a Shiite pilgrimage district of Baghdad, on January 4, 2020. (SABAH ARAR / AFP)

Earlier thousands of militiamen and other supporters chanting “America is the Great Satan” marched in a funeral procession in Baghdad for Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as the region braced for the Islamic Republic to fulfill its vows of revenge.

Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and mastermind of its regional security strategy, was killed early Friday near the Baghdad international airport along with senior Iraqi militants in an airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump. The attack has caused regional tensions to soar and tested the US alliance with Iraq.

Iran has vowed harsh retaliation, raising fears of an all-out war, All eyes were on Iraq, where America and Iran have competed for influence since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani (Screenshot)

Trump says he ordered the strike, a high-risk decision that was made without consulting Congress or US allies, to prevent a conflict. US officials say Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered American troops and officials, without providing evidence.

The US-led coalition has scaled back operations and boosted “security and defensive measures” at bases hosting coalition forces in Iraq, a coalition official said on condition of anonymity according to regulations. The US has meanwhile dispatched another 3,000 troops to neighboring Kuwait, the latest in a series of deployments in recent months as the standoff with Iran has worsened.

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional policy of mobilizing militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State group. He was also blamed for attacks on US troops and American allies going back decades.

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