Senior pro-Iran militia official among several killed in Baghdad airport strike
search

Senior pro-Iran militia official among several killed in Baghdad airport strike

Popular Mobilization Units says Mohammed Ridha, thought to have been main instigator of embassy riots, killed in bombing blamed on US, other senior figures also reportedly struck

Pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters chant slogans against the U.S. in front of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (AP/Khalid Mohammed)
Pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters chant slogans against the U.S. in front of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (AP/Khalid Mohammed)

At least three Katyusha rockets struck inside Baghdad’s international airport just after midnight on Friday morning, killing several people, including the public relations head of a powerful Iran-backed group in the Iraqi capital.

An Iraqi security official told The Associated Press that four people were killed in the attack. AFP cited a security official saying eight were killed, as tensions simmered between Tehran-backed militias and US forces in the city days after protesters attempted to break into the US embassy there.

The Popular Mobilization Units, an amalgamation of various Shiite militias in Iraq backed by Iran, said in a Facebook post that its public relations director had been killed in a “cowardly US bombing,” according to Reuters.

Reports named the senior official as Mohammed Ridha, who was said to be one of the main coordinators of the embassy melee.

According to unconfirmed reports, the missiles struck two SUVs carrying Ridha and other members of the PMU, as well as “high-value guests.”

Lebanon based news outlet Al Mayadeen, which has close ties to Iran-backed Hezbollah, reported that “two important figures” were killed in the rocket attack. Other reports indicated at least some of those killed were Lebanese.

Iraq’s Security Media Cell, which releases information regarding Iraqi security, said the rockets landed near the airport’s cargo hall. It reported several casualties and said two cars were on fire.

Pictures and video purporting to show the airport shared on social media showed two large fires burning.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though an unconfirmed al-Arabiya report claimed US forces were behind the attack.

The incident came hours after US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned that the US was embarking on a more aggressive mission to counter Iranian influence in Iraq and across the Mideast, including possible pre-emptive attacks to thwart activities by Iran-backed fighters.

Esper warned that Iran or its proxy forces may be planning further strikes on American interests in the Middle East. Without providing details, he said the US has “indications” that more Iranian provocations may be in the offing. If that happens, he said, the US will take action — preemptively, if it has enough warning.

“The game has changed,” Esper said, telling reporters that violent acts by Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq — including a rocket attack on December 27 that killed one American — will be met with US military force. The US had retaliated by launching air strikes that killed 25 fighters of Iran-back militia Kataeb Hezbollah.

US forces (unseen) fire teargas canisters at supporters and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force during a demonstration outside the US embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on January 1, 2020. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

In response, Iran-backed militias marched on the US embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone, camping out for two days inside the mission’s outer perimeter before retreating.

Esper said that for months the Iraqi government was urged “over and over” by senior American officials to do more to control the Iran-sponsored militia groups, such as KH, and to investigate those who instigate attacks on US targets.

“We haven’t seen sufficient action on their part,” he said, adding that Iraqi leaders must “get the Iranian influence out of the country.”

read more:
comments