3 rockets hit near US embassy in Baghdad

Times of Israel

Three rockets landed inside the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, home to the US Embassy and the seat of Iraq’s government, city residents said on Sunday.

Alert sirens were sounded in the area on the west bank of the Tigris River.

Police sources told Reuters that the projectiles were Katyusha rockets. Witnesses told AFP they saw two rockets hit near the US embassy.

There were some injuries to civilians, local media reported.

The attack came shortly after the deadline from a hardline pro-Iran faction for local troops to get away from US forces, following the US airstrike in Baghdad on Friday that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and a high-ranking Iraqi militia leader.

The vehemently anti-American group Kataeb Hezbollah had warned Iraqi security forces to “get away” from US troops at joint bases across Iraq by 5 p.m.

Sunday’s attack marks the 14th time rockets have been fired toward US installations in Iraq over the last two months.

Late Saturday, missiles slammed into the Baghdad enclave where the US embassy is located and an airbase north of the capital housing American troops, prompting US President Donald Trump to threaten strikes on 52 sites in Iran.

The near-simultaneous attacks seemed to be the first phase of promised retaliation for the airstrike that killed Soleimani.

While no one claimed Saturday’s attacks, Kataeb Hezbollah, which is a faction in the Hashed, a network of Shiite-majority armed groups incorporated into the state, urged Iraqis to move away from US forces.

“We ask security forces in the country to get at least 1,000 meters (3280 feet) away from US bases starting on Sunday at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT),” said Kataeb Hezbollah.

The Iraqi parliament on Sunday called for the expulsion of US troops from the country in reaction to the American drone attack on Soleimani and a number of top Iraqi officials at the Baghdad airport, raising the prospect of a withdrawal that could allow a resurgence by Islamic State extremists.

Lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent forces more than four years ago to help in the fight against he Islamic State group.

The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government. But even then, canceling the US-Iraq agreement requires giving the Americans a one-year notice for withdrawal.

But the vote was another sign of the blowback from the US airstrike Friday. The attack has dramatically escalated regional tensions and raised fears of outright war.

Amid Iran’s threats of vengeance, the US-led military coalition in Iraq announced Sunday it was putting the fight against Islamic State militants on hold to focus on protecting its troops and bases. The coalition said it is suspending the training of Iraqi forces and other operations in support of the battle against IS.

A pullout of the estimated 5,200 US troops could cripple the fight against IS and allow it to make a comeback. It could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq.

The US said it is sending some 3,500 troops to the Middle East to serve as reinforcements.

Iraqi officials have decried the killing of the general as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

“The killing of Soleimani was a political assassination,” outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi told Parliament, adding that the Iranian general was scheduled to meet him the next morning about relations with Saudi Arabia.

Also on Sunday, the Iraqi foreign ministry summoned US Ambassador Matthew Tueller to condemn the killing of Soleimani, calling it “a blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”


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