Monday December 21, 2020
A volley of rockets has targeted the United States’ embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, Iraq’s military said, sparking fears of renewed unrest as next month’s anniversary of the US assassination of a top Iranian general draws near.
An Iraqi military statement on Sunday said an “an outlawed group” launched eight rockets targeting the Green Zone, injuring one Iraqi security person manning a checkpoint and causing material damage to some cars and a residential complex, which is usually empty.
The US embassy’s C-RAM defence system, which is used to destroy missiles midair, was activated to deflect the attack, the embassy said in a statement.
“The US embassy confirms rockets targeting the International Zone [Green Zone] resulted in the engagement of embassy defensive systems,” the statement said, adding that there was minor damage to the embassy compound.
“We call on all Iraqi political and governmental leaders to take steps to prevent such attacks and hold accountable those responsible,” the statement said.
The thundering sound of the defence system could be heard by Associated Press reporters located on the other side of the Tigris river.
The C-RAM system was installed by the US in the middle of the year as armed groups stepped up rocket attacks targeting the embassy and its premises.
The US withdrew some staff from its embassy in Baghdad earlier this month, temporarily reducing personnel before the first anniversary of the US air strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, outside Baghdad’s airport on January 3.
The US officials said the reduction of the staff stemmed from concerns about a possible retaliatory attack.
Soleimani’s killing sparked outrage and led Iraq’s parliament to pass a non-binding resolution days later, calling for the expulsion of all foreign troops from Iraq.
In Iraq, the US plans to reduce the number of troops from 3,000 to 2,500 by mid-January, before Trump is to leave office. But the frequency of rocket attacks in Iraq has frustrated the Trump administration.
Iran-backed militia groups have been blamed for orchestrating the attacks, including the Kataib Hezbollah group. In October, these groups agreed to an indefinite truce, but Sunday’s attack is the third apparent violation.
The first on November 17 saw a volley of rockets slam into the US embassy and various parts of the Iraqi capital, killing one young woman.
On December 10, two convoys transporting logistical equipment for the US-led coalition helping Iraqi troops fight armed groups were targeted with roadside bombs.
In September, Washington warned Iraq that it will close its embassy in Baghdad if the government fails to take decisive action to end rocket and other attacks by Iranian-backed militias on the American and allied interests in the country.
But in an unusual move, several factions condemned Sunday’s attack.
Moqtada Sadr, a populist scholar and former militia leader, tweeted that “no one has the right to use weapons outside of the state”.
Even Kataib Hezbollah, which has been blamed for other attacks, issued an online statement. “Bombing the embassy of evil (US embassy) at this time is considered out of order,” it said, while also condemning the US embassy’s use of the C-RAM system.
The statement could be an attempt to calm tensions in advance of the anniversary on January 3 of the US drone strike that killed Soleimani and leading Iraqi commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.