Rockets target US facility in Iraq, again

Three rockets targeted Balad Air Base in central Iraq’s Salahuddin province on Wednesday, according to a military statement. These rockets are one of many attacks on US forces in Iraq over the last two years.

The attacks are usually carried out by pro-Iran militias linked to official paramilitary groups and political parties. In the past, they have used 107mm and 122mm rockets, as well as drones – there have been at least four drone attacks on US facilities in Erbil and Al-Asad.

While the Balad air base has US contractors, the US has pointed out there are no US troops on the base. Nevertheless, it has been a frequent target. Sabareen news first reported the incident and then other reports in Iraq appeared to confirm it.

Wednesday was an auspicious day for Iran and Iraq. Earlier in the day, IRGC Quds Force head Esmail Ghaani reportedly arrived in Baghdad. Additionally, Qassam Muslih was released from prison after being accused of previous attacks on US forces and killing Iraqi protesters. He is the Al-Tofuf (Liwa Al-Tafuf) brigade commander and allegedly linked to pro-Iran militias.

Muslih’s brigade was formed to protect a shrine in Karbala and he was considered close to Ayatollah Sistani, according to expert Jason Brodsky who tweeted about the incident.

However, Muslih was apparently expelled from the pro-Sistani unit and established his own pro-Iran unit several years ago. The unit was accused of attacks on Kurds in 2017 clashes. He was a key pro-Iran commander in Anbar over the last years. Pro-Iran militias in Iraq have killed protesters and threatened the Prime Minister. They have also threatened Israel in recent years.

The Balad base has US contractors who do maintenance on Iraqi F-16s. In May reports said Lockheed Martin pulled contractors from Balad because of threats. There are also contractors of Sallyport Global at Balad. In February, four rockets targeted the base. In March another five rockets were fired at the base. On April 18 the US-led Coalition said that “it is being reported that Balad Air Base was attacked with rockets tonight. There are no Coalition/US Forces stationed at Balad Air base.” Six rockets were fired at the base that night.

In June 2019 reports said there were some 400 employees or contractors at the site and some were to be evacuated at that time due to threats. 20 of the remaining 70 Lockheed contractors were supposed to go to Erbil in May according to a report at The Drive.






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