US breaks silence on rocket and mortar attacks near US bases in Iraq

The US broke six months of silence on the almost weekly attacks that have threatened US forces in Iraq. These have come amid Iran tensions but neither the US or Iraqi authorities have wanted to point the finger at pro-Iranian elements. Yet it has been clear that ISIS was likely not behind the attacks that began in May. The US warned in May and early December that Iran was going to threaten the US or allies.

US officials told AFP they are alarmed by recent attempted attacks on December 5.

For instance, “The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on its bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Tehran’s overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor,” according to a report. “We’re lucky no one has been killed. There is a spike in rocket attacks,” another US official said, adding that the sophistication showed the attacks were not from the Islamic State group.

December 5 revelations

An official said these were more sophisticated attacks, with larger and better rockets. It comes as the NYT reported Iran transferring short-range ballistic missiles to Iraq.

“It’s clearly not ISIS. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s the right range,” the official said.

The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Iran’s clerical regime and its overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor. – France24, December 5

The US initially listed these incidents:

1. Five rockets hit the Al-Asad Air Base on Tuesday, four days after VP Pence was there. “On Tuesday, five rockets landed on Ain Al-Asad air base, which hosts U.S. forces in Anbar province in western Iraq without causing any casualties.”

2. More than 12 rockets on Qayyarah base (Q-West)

3. Rocket attacks near US embassy that killed 1 Iraqi soldier

A fourth incident was noted, the most recent one: “Iraqi military on Thursday said that two Katyusha rockets landed inside Balad air base, which hosts U.S. forces and contractors and is located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad.”

A list that I compiled is slightly expanded:

May 1: Taji (attempted)
May 19: Green Zone
June 16: Balad
June 17: Taji
Sept. 23: Green Zone
Oct. 28: Taji
Oct. 30: Green Zone (one Iraqi killed)
Nov. 8: Q-West
Nov. 17: Green Zone two rockets
December 3: Assad
December 5: Balad

The December 9 attack

Then on December 9: “Four Katyusha rockets hit a military base near Baghdad International Airport early on Monday, wounding at least six soldiers, Iraqi security officials said. It was the latest incident in a series of rocket attacks in recent weeks.

According to reports: “US surveillance can identify their origins Iraqi partners quickly get to the scene, usually finding spent launchers.”

The December 9 attack revealed that “Iraqi security forces discovered a rocket launcher and some defused rockets nearby after searching the area following the the attack.” In addition US officials said that “the area targeted by the rockets is frequented by military advisers from the U.S.-led coalition.”

The December 9 reports included other incidents:

December 3: Five rockets landed inside the Ain al-Asad airbase.
Three November attacks: “On at least two occasions last month in Baghdad, rockets landed in areas around the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government, causing no casualties or damages. And near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a barrage of Katyusha rockets targeted an Iraqi air base [Q West] that houses American troops in early November. No members of the U.S.-led coalition were hurt.”

A history of rocket attacks near US bases in Iraq May-December, 2019

In June US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did blame Iran for “a rocket attack on the Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, where the U.S. embassy is located.” But nothing more came of it. The US knew that Trump’s comments about “watching” Iran from Iraq in December 2018 and February 2019 had raised eyebrows in Baghdad. It wasn’t mentioned in the Lead Inspector General Report from July to October but was mentioned in the April to June report. “June 15-17 Rockets are fired at the Balad air base and Camp Taji, where U.S. military personnel are based.”

Screen Shot 2019-12-11 at 12.06.42 PM

The US Lead Inspector General Report mentioned an attack in June

In November I reported about the Q-West incident: No coalition troops were injured, according to US Marine Corps Capt. Marisa Roberts, the deputy spokeswoman for the US-led coalition. The coalition says that it appreciates the “Iraqi Security Forces’ immediate response and investigation” of the rocket attack, which occurred around 7:45 p.m. Initial reports at Al-Arabiya said 17 projectiles fell.

An email to the Coalition today directed me to CENTCOM.

The US has sought new M-SHORAD solutions to confront things like this and the US Marines even looked at Israel’s Iron Dome system.

It’s Bull**** 

The official said on December 6 “the question is, when is someone going to call BS?” he said. According to the same report “Multiple US diplomatic and military sources have told AFP of their growing frustration with such attacks. They say they are relying on their Iraqi partners to play a ‘de-conflicting’ role between them and the Hashed [Hashd al-Sha’abi or PMU] to prevent any clashes.”

So what can the US do when the PMU is an official part of the Iraqi government but suspicions fall on it for firing rockets? It comes as elements of the PMU close to Iran were accused of suppressing protests. They also have not integrated the way they were intended into the security forces. “We all recognise the danger out here. Sometimes our Iraqi partners say, well what can I do?” the official said.

US State Department chimes in, December 6, 2019

Iran may have been behind Thursday’s attack on Iraq’s Balad air base, a senior U.S. State Department official said on Friday, but added that Washington was awaiting further evidence, Reuters reported. “We’re waiting for full evidence, but if past is prolog then there’s a good chance that Iran was behind it,” David Schenker, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters in a briefing. It is concerning, he said. “The Iranians often times, or have certainly in the past, taken aggressive action when they feel under pressure,” he said.

There have now been nine attacks, December 9, 2019

CNN reported that the US believed Iran was behind the attacks. The US was increasingly concerned. “The US military strongly believes Iranian-backed groups inside Iraq are responsible according to a US official with direct knowledge of the recent incidents. There have been nine rocket attacks on or in the vicinity of Iraqi facilities that host US troops in the last five weeks with the most recent one taking place on Monday.”

*** Update***

On the morning of December 11 CENTCOMreportedly said “we will not allow an attack on our forces, allies, or facilities in Iraq.”

On December 11 rockets reportedly struck near Baghdad’s airport.

US warns Iran: “unnamed US official: Iran is close to crossing a red line by its attacks on US facilities in Iraq. This comes 2 days after 4 Katyusha rockets fell near Baghdad Airport, injuring 5 members of Iraqi CTService. Attacks have escalated in past 5 weeks.”

In addition the US now appears to be pointing a finger at the PMU. “US Official: the Iraqi government is doing nothing to stop PMF (Hashd) militia attacks..Iraqi Shia militias are behind the attacks on our bases in Iraq.”

Also reports indicated another rocket attack nearQ-West.

CENTCOM statements

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CENTCOM and the Coalition have released only a few statements about the incidents.

On November 8 they said: “At approximately 7:45 p.m. several rockets impacted the Iraqi’s Qayyarah base. No Coalition troops were injured. We appreciate the Iraqi Security Forces immediate response and investigation. Coalition forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq to defeat ISIS remnants; we will not be deterred by these attacks and maintain the right to defend ourselves.” ~ U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Marisa Roberts, Coalition Deputy spokeswoman.

In August 20: “We are aware of open source reports of explosions near al-Balad base. Please contact the Iraqi Ministry of Defence for more information.”

After the June 17 incident: “Indirect fire landed within the perimeter of Camp Taji, Iraq, June 17. There were no coalition or partner force casualties, and Iraqi Security Forces are investigating the incident.”

Reutersreports an official said: “We’re used to harassing fire,” said the military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “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.” The official added: “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.”

The report notes “A senior U.S. military official said on Wednesday attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were gathering pace and becoming more sophisticated, pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation.”

December 11 attack
CJTF-OIR Media Ops noted “At 6:36pm (Baghdad Time) on December 11th, two rockets impacted near the military training facility at the Baghdad Airport. No personnel were harmed and no facility was struck. The initial assessment and investigation of the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center attack is on-going. Iraqi Security Forces are leading the response. We take the recent rocket attacks in Iraq seriously as do our Iraqi Security Forces partners, who are investigating these events.  We have made clear that attacks on U.S. and Coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and we retain the right to defend ourselves.   U.S. forces operate in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq to support Iraqi forces against ISIS.  We are committed to supporting a secure and sovereign Iraq and the people of Iraq.”

Pompeo speaks

“Iran’s proxies have recently conducted several attacks against bases where Iraqi Security Forces are co-located with US & International Coalition personnel,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, reported Ryan Browne on December 13. “We strongly condemn the Iranian proxy attack that wounded five Iraqi soldiers near the Baghdad Airport this week. To Iran’s leaders – the U.S. will respond decisively if Iran or its proxies harm U.S. personnel or our Iraqi partners,” Pompeo said.


December 6, ‘Treasury Sanctions Iran-Backed Militia Leaders Who Killed Innocent Demonstrators in Iraq.’

December 6, ‘Iran may have been behind attack on Iraq’s Balad base: U.S. State Dept official.’

December 5, ‘Background Briefing With Senior State Department Officials.’

QUESTION: I was really trying there. I was really, really trying there. So that was before we knew about this intelligence that Iran has moved missiles into Iraq.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, actually, I was – I gave a backgrounder to you guys two months ago or more, if you go look at it, where I said very clearly on background Iran is storing ballistic missiles in Iraq. I’ve said it a number of times in background briefings in the bullpen. So this is not news; this should not be any news to you. You guys were there, right?

December 2, ‘Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker’, “Iraqis increasingly view Iran as having – Iraqis increasingly view Iran as having coopted and exploited Iraq’s political system

Like these reports, want to read more of my writing, check out my new book After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East. Available at Amazon.


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