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The Iraq Report: US interests face attack in Iraq as tensions with Iran heighten Open in fullscreen

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The Iraq Report: US interests face attack in Iraq as tensions with Iran heighten

Iraqi forces take security measurements around the Bahrain embassy building after protesters stormed it [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 June, 2019

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This week, American military have been repeatedly targeted by rocket attacks, with many suspecting that Iranian agents or proxies are responsible, as Iraq boycotts Bahrain's 'Deal of the Century' summit.

As tensions between the United States and Iran continue to simmer, it would appear that Tehran is using multiple fronts to apply its own "maximum resistance" campaign to counter the White House's "maximum pressure" sanctions regime.

American military and economic interests in Iraq have been repeatedly targeted by rocket attacks, with many suspecting that Iranian agents or proxies are responsible.

Aside from foreign assets facing attacks, bombings have once more returned to Baghdad after the government made efforts to show the international community that the capital was safe once more and open for business.

These follow a spate of other terror attacks across the country with the Islamic State group remaining silent on whether or not they were responsible. Their unusual silence suggests other players may be entering the deadly game of Iraqi insurgency against the federal government with civilians tragically caught in the middle.

The Islamic State group's silence suggests other players may be entering the deadly game of Iraqi insurgency against the federal government with civilians tragically caught in the middle

US assets attacked by suspected Iran proxies

A number of attacks against American military and economic targets in Iraq have taken place amidst soaring tensions between the US and Iran.

Three rockets hit an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad, where American trainers and Iraqi troops are based, the Iraqi military said earlier this month. The attack on camp Taji, about 27 kilometres (17 miles) north of Baghdad – which took place late Monday – was the second on a military post housing American personnel in as many days. 

An attack on Balad Airbase, also housing US military trainers, north of Baghdad just two days earlier caused a small fire.

A brief statement from the Iraqi military said that Katushya rockets were used. Two military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because an investigation is still underway said the rockets landed near an Iraqi air defence unit.

Such armaments and munitions are commonly available to pro-Iran groups who receive regular arms supplies from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Following the attacks, an Iranian official called on the US to leave the Middle East, while Washington said it will send a thousand more troops to the region to counter "Iranian threats".

Seemingly in response, and within a few days, a further string of attacks targeting US interests took place.

Three rockets landed in the Rumailah oil field in Iraq's Basra, an industry source there said. The rockets hit near a camp used by Baker Hughes, a company of US industrial conglomerate General Electric working in gas fields in Iraq but did not cause any injuries.

It did however prompt US companies to issue emergency procedures to immediately evacuate senior-level foreign workers on the first flights out of Basra, a source told AFP.

"There's a red alert issued by the American companies. The senior expat management are leaving today and tomorrow," the source said, saying it was the same level of alert issued in May when 83 ExxonMobil employees were evacuated.

Immediately following that attack, "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.

Oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told AFP the wounded were all Iraqis and that the incident had "no impact on production".

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These attacks are interesting in that no one has claimed responsibility for them. In a country like Iraq where many groups, both Sunni and Shia alike, express open hostility to the United States, it is unusual that no one would claim credit for attacks that could see them increase in popularity.

This suggests that those behind the attacks could well be so closely linked to Iran and the IRGC that any admission of responsibility could give Washington another excuse to take harder measures against Iranian targets, including using kinetic military force.

Iraqi politicians have been at pains to stress that they do not want to be involved in any conflict between Iran and the US, but this is beyond Baghdad's control even if they beef up security around bases with US personnel. Iran is so powerful and influential in Iraq that it is impossible that it will not use its proxies to act against the US there. 

Meanwhile, Washington is also involved in Iraq, albeit to a lesser extent than Iran, and will feel the need to defend its assets.

Iraqi politicians have been at pains to stress that they do not want to be involved in any conflict between Iran and the US

Terror attacks continue across Iraq

Despite Iraqi efforts to show that peace had been largely restored to the country and particularly to the capital Baghdad, there have been attacks targeting mosques and other civilian infrastructure that once more raises the spectre of terrorism swallowing the country.

Since coming to power last year, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi has ordered the gradual shedding of concrete blast walls and checkpoints around the heart of government in Baghdad, the so-called "Green Zone". Three weeks ago, the final barriers were removed allowing the 10-square kilometre area to reopen to the public in a symbolic gesture that Iraq was finally getting back to its feet.

However, last week a suicide explosion at a Shia mosque in eastern Baghdad killed two civilians and wounded nine people.

The blast hit the Imam Mahdi al-Muntadhar mosque in Baladiyat, near the massive and densely-populated district of Sadr City where the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr holds sway.

"At least one attacker wearing a belt of explosives tried to enter the building but was stopped by the guards, and detonated himself outside," one police officer told AFP.

"Two civilians were killed and nine people were wounded," the source said.

Again, there was no immediate claim of responsibility, but fingers have been pointed at IS remnants who have demonstrated an ability to infiltrate past Iraqi security and orchestrate deadly attacks, including the 2016 Karrada bombing that claimed the lives of 340 civilians.

In 2017, Iraq declared victory against the Islamic State militant group, which had also carried out mass attacks against civilians in the capital. However, the militants have continued to launch devastating terror attacks, including being blamed for an attack last month that killed a 13-year-old girl in Mosul.

While IS have been accused of these latest attacks, they have been unusually silent. IS are known to claim many attacks almost immediately and to use it for propaganda purposes to show their "caliphate" is still alive. Despite this track record, however, they have not claimed these attacks.

This has led to the suggestion that some of these attacks could be politically motivated. For instance, several bombings have struck Sadr City in the past two months, and Sadr's political bloc won the most votes in the last elections much to the chagrin of his opponents. They may therefore be motivated to discredit or weaken Sadr who is himself not above using violence having run the most brutal sectarian militia for years.

Iraq boycotts Bahrain's 'Deal of the Century' summit

Iraq and Bahrain have had a diplomatic falling out after Iraq boycotted a summit hosted by its fellow Arab country and after Iraqi protesters sacked the Bahraini embassy in the capital Baghdad last night.

The Bahrain-hosted and US-organised "Deal of the Century" summit on the future of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been widely criticised as being a pet project of US President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that lacks any meaningful involvement from the Palestinians.

Read also: 'Our cause is not for sale': Palestinians unanimously reject US-Bahrain 'Deal of the Century' summit

Citing the lack of Palestinian buy-in and describing the summit as "suspicious", Iraqi officials joined their Lebanese counterparts two weeks ago in confirming that they would not be attending in solidarity with the Palestinian position.

However, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have backed Kushner's plan, and were joined at the summit by Egypt and Jordan who are the only two Arab countries with open peace treaties with Israel.

Enraged by Bahraini support for Israel, the protesters stormed the embassy building, tore down the Bahraini flag, and replaced it with the Palestinian banner.

As the summit concluded, Iraqis took to the streets and protested outside the Bahraini embassy in downtown Baghdad on Thursday night. Enraged by Bahraini support for Israel, the protesters stormed the embassy building, tore down the Bahraini flag, and replaced it with the Palestinian banner.

Security forces intervened with the entire affair lasting little more than an hour and the 200 or so demonstrators dispersed by police and security officers. There were no casualties reported, though the Bahraini government complained the building had suffered from "sabotage" attacks.

Bahrain termed the action an "attack" on its sovereign territory and recalled its ambassador. It is unclear what further diplomatic action Manama might take.

The storming of the Bahraini embassy should also be taken in light of the escalations between the US and Iran, as it is unprecedented for Iraqi protesters to attack an embassy. Iran has previously been accused by Bahrain of fomenting the protest movement that almost toppled the Manama government in 2011, and Bahrain is part of the Saudi and UAE alliance against neighbouring Qatar.


The Iraq Report is a fortnightly feature at The New Arab.

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