Multiple Rockets Strike The American Embassy Compound In Iraq (Updated)
Despite months of similar strikes, this appears to be the first publicly acknowledged instance where any rockets actually hit the Embassy compound.
Details are still coming in, but a number of rockets have hit the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, reportedly causing minor damage, but no casualties. Iranian-backed Iraqi militias in the country have been launching sporadic rocket attacks at various American military and diplomatic facilities for over a year now, but this would be the first publicly acknowledged instance where they actually hit a portion of the Embassy compound in Iraq's capital over the course of those strikes. This comes as U.S. forces in the region remain on high alert following weeks of increased tensions with Iran and its proxies, including Iraqi militias, following an American drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander earlier this month and a subsequent Iranian ballistic missile strike aimed at U.S. personnel in Iraq.
This latest rocket attack came at around 7:30 PM local time on Jan. 26, 2020, in Baghdad, with militants reportedly firing a total of five artillery rockets toward the sprawling Green Zone. This area of Baghdad, which was off-limits to the public for years following the U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of the country in 2003, is home to various diplomatic missions and Iraqi government buildings. Initial reports did not indicate that any of the rockets fell within the Embassy compound, causing alarms to sound, but Iraqi and U.S. government sources reportedly later told various outlets that one of the rockets had hit a dining hall and another two fell nearby. CNN has reported that an initial damage assessment is still ongoing.
There is video already circulating online reportingly showing the rocket attack, as well as warning sirens going off inside Forward Operating Base Union III, a U.S. military facility located near the Embassy compound. No group has claimed responsibility so far, but previous similar strikes aimed at American diplomatic and military personnel in Iraq have been tied to Iranian-backed militias in the country.
"Once again, aggression against a foreign diplomatic mission is repeated, with a number of Katyusha rockets falling inside the US embassy campus," Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi's office said in a statement. "We have commanded our forces to deploy, search, & investigate to prevent the recurrence of such attacks, and to arrest those who fired these rockets so that they can be punished in court."
Mohamed Al Halbousi, an Iraqi politician who presently serves as Speaker of the Council of Representatives, also condemned the attack. There has been no official statement yet from the U.S. State Department or the U.S. military.
These would be the first rockets confirmed to have actually hit within the U.S. Embassy compound, despite Iranian-backed Iraqi militias launching an increasing number of attacks toward the Green Zone in recent months. Those same militant groups have fired rockets at other facilities that American diplomatic and military personnel use throughout Iraq on a somewhat regular basis tracing back all the way to 2018.
One of these earlier incidents, on Dec. 28, killed a U.S. contractor, Nawres Hamid, a naturalized American citizen who had emigrated from Iraq. The U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad was also subjected to an attack by a mob of individuals, including members of Iranian-backed militias, on Dec. 31.
These incidents touched off a series of events that led first to a U.S. drone strike that killed the commander of Iran's Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad, on Jan. 3, 2020. That, in turn, precipitated an unprecedented Iranian ballistic missile strike aimed at areas that U.S. forces occupy at Al Asad Air Base and Erbil Airport in Iraq on Jan. 7. Despite initial reports, American officials now say that 34 individuals were injured in those strikes, which also caused significant damage at Al Asad.
There are unconfirmed reports that earlier rocket attacks aimed at the Green Zone, including the most recent previous incident on Jan. 20, also actually struck the Embassy compound, but did not cause any casualties.
How the United States responds remains to be seen. U.S. officials had previously indicated that there hope was that targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani had made clear to Iran and its proxies that continued attacks on American forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East would not go unanswered.
"You're not allowed to just fire off 31 rockets at U.S. forces and – and we're just supposed to consider it the cost of doing business," Jonathan Rath Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, told reporters on Jan. 16, 2020, referring to the strike that killed Nawres Hamid in December. "The impact of it [the Soleimani strike] though and being an overt and being an attributable action is that the Iranians have had to recalibrate the – the deterrence and that they now understand that there are some – that – that we're not going to allow a progression of attacks."
We will continue to update our story as more information becomes available.
UPDATE: 5:50pm EST
There are now reports that there has been at least one American casualty from the rocket attack.
UPDATE: 8:05pm EST
CNN is reporting that the one American casualty was minor and that the individual in question, who has not been identified yet in any way, has returned to their duties.
The U.S. State Department has given a brief official statement now to VOA, in which it only says it is "aware of reports" of the rocket attacks, but offered no additional details. There have also been conflicting reports about how many rockets landed inside the Embassy compound in total.
"The security situation remains tense and Iranian-backed armed groups remain a threat," a State Departement Spokesman also told CNN, but did not specifically blame any of those militias for the rocket attack. "So, we remain vigilant."
A spokesperson for Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a government-sanctioned umbrella organization that includes a number of Iranian-backed militias, has insisted that none of the groups it oversees were responsible for the rocket attacks on the U.S. Embassy compound.
The State Department's top spokesperson Morgan Ortagus has now also released the following statement regarding a phone call between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi:
"Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo spoke today with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi. Secretary Pompeo expressed his outrage at the continued assaults by Iran’s armed groups against U.S. facilities in Iraq, including yesterday’s rocket attacks against our Embassy, which resulted in one injury. The Secretary underlined once again that these attacks demonstrate a wanton disregard for Iraqi sovereignty and a failure to rein in these dangerous armed groups. He appreciated Prime Minister Abd al-Mahdi’s commitment to strengthen security to protect American personnel and diplomatic facilities. The Secretary noted that we view last night’s attack on the Embassy as an attempt to distract Iraqi and international attention away from the brutal suppression of peaceful Iraqi protesters by Iran and its proxies. Secretary Pompeo encouraged the Prime Minister to maintain Iraqi sovereignty, and reaffirmed the United States’ enduring commitment to the Iraqi people, our willingness to discuss the scope of our forces in Iraq over time, and our desire for a strong and prosperous Iraq, as outlined in our bilateral Strategic Framework Agreement."
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