Rockets Hit Iraq Base Hosting U.S. Troops Amid Tension With Iran

A U.S. civilian contractor suffered a heart attack while sheltering during the strike and died

By Jared Malsin in Dubai and Ghassan Adnan in Baghdad Updated March 3, 2021 3:08 pm ET

Ten rockets struck a military base used by U.S. forces in Iraq amid heightened tensions between Washington and Iran-backed militant groups in the country.

A U.S. civilian contractor suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering during the attack and died, according to Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby. No U.S. servicemembers were hurt in the attack on Iraq’s Al Asad base, Mr. Kirby said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. An Iraqi news agency, Sabreen, which supports Iranian-allied militias, published photos and initial reports of the attack.

President Biden said Wednesday that his administration is looking into the rocket attack.

“Thank God, no one was killed by the rocket,” he said. “One individual, a contractor, died of a heart attack. But we’re identifying who’s responsible and will make judgments from that point.”

The rocket barrage comes less than a week after a U.S. airstrike targeted Iranian-allied Iraqi militias in neighboring Syria. The strike was a response to a deadly rocket attack on a U.S. air base in northern Iraq that was claimed by an Iranian-backed militia.

The attacks threaten to add pressure on the Biden administration as it attempts to start negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program. Iran over the weekend rejected a European Union offer to hold informal talks, which the U.S. would attend as a guest, aimed at reviving a 2015 agreement that limits Iranian nuclear activity in return for sanctions relief.

Mr. Biden has said he intends to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and use it as a platform for follow-on discussions about Iran’s conventional military footprint, including its missile program and support for militias in the Middle East. Iranian officials insist that any discussion of regional security issues must be separate from nuclear talks, as they were in the negotiations leading up to the 2015 agreement.

Wednesday’s attack also comes two days before Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Iraq for a long-awaited visit, during which he will attempt to promote better relations between Iraq’s Muslim and Christian communities.

Iraqi security forces said 122-millimeter “Grad” rockets were used, slightly larger than those used in previous attacks, including the one in February that killed a contractor on a U.S. base in the city of Erbil, in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdistan region.

The base’s missile defense systems activated in response to the attack, the Pentagon said. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was briefed on the situation, according to Mr. Kirby.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday the administration was still assessing the impact of the rocket attack and determining the “precise attribution.”

“If we assess a further response is warranted, we will take action again in a manner and time of our choosing, and we reserve that option,” Ms. Psaki said.

An Iraqi security official said the rockets had been fired from farmland next to Al Asad base. Security officials also released photos that they said showed a truck that had been used to launch the rockets.

Iraqi security forces are leading the response and investigation into the attack, said U.S. coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto in a tweet.

A large base used by both Iraqi and American-led coalition forces, Al Asad was also the target of an Iranian missile attack in January 2020 in the aftermath of a U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a top Iraqi paramilitary leader.

Iraqi militant groups allied with Iran have vowed to avenge the killings of Gen. Soleimani and the paramilitary leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, saying that their response could continue over a long period.

Pro-Iran militants also said they had a right to respond to the U.S. airstrike in Syria last week, which killed at least one member of an Iraqi militia. (Click to Source)

—Tarini Parti contributed to this article.

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