US officials warn of uncontrollable escalation with Iran in Iraq
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US officials warn of uncontrollable escalation with Iran in Iraq

As new rocket attack targets base near Baghdad housing US troops, military source says Tehran-backed force becoming bigger threat than Islamic State

In this photo from February 23, 2017, US Army soldiers stand outside their armored vehicle on a joint base with Iraqi army south of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed, File)
In this photo from February 23, 2017, US Army soldiers stand outside their armored vehicle on a joint base with Iraqi army south of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed, File)

US military officials have escalated their warnings to Iran that a military conflict could be looming between the countries in Iraq due to incessant attacks on US-linked targets blamed on Tehran-backed militias.

Two rockets were fired Thursday at a military base near Baghdad airport housing US troops, the 10th such attack since late October, the Iraqi army said.

There were no casualties in the overnight attack, which follows one on the same base on Monday that wounded six members of Iraq’s elite US-trained counterterrorism force, two of them critically, the army said.

Washington has expressed mounting concern about the flurry of attacks on US bases and diplomatic missions, several of which it has blamed on Shiite militia groups trained by its foe and rival for influence Tehran.

Tensions between Iran and the US have soared since Washington pulled out of a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.

Baghdad — which is close to both countries and whose many security forces have been trained by either the US or Iran — is worried about being caught in the middle.

Illustrative: US Army soldiers from 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division board a C-17 aircraft at Baghdad International Airport as they begin their journey to the United States, July 13, 2010. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

A US defense official told AFP the rocket attacks made the PMF a bigger security threat to American troops in Iraq than Islamic State, the terror movement that the US has vowed to help Baghdad wipe out.

A senior official was quoted Wednesday by the Reuters news agency as warning the escalation could become uncontrollable and that “no one will like the outcome.”

“We’re used to harassing fire,” the official said. “But the pace of [that] was [previously] pretty episodic… [Now] the level of complexity is increasing, the volume of rockets being shot in a single volley is increasing and is very concerning to us. There is a point at which their actions change things on the ground and make it more likely that some other actions, some other choices made – by somebody, whether it’s them or us – will escalate unintentionally.”

US officials say they are considering plans to deploy between 5,000 and 7,000 additional troops to the region to counter Iran.

Security sources have linked at least one attack last week to Kataib Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite faction close to Tehran and blacklisted by Washington.

Iran holds vast sway in Iraq, especially among the more hardline elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a paramilitary force largely made up of Shiite militias.

On Friday, the United States imposed sanctions on three senior PMF figures.

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