Ten rockets were fired at an Iraqi military base hosting U.S.-led coalition troops Wednesday, the latest in a series of rocket attacks in Iraq with this one just days before the Pope is due to visit the country.
The rockets targeted Ain Al-Asad airbase, northwest of Baghdad, at 7:20 a.m. local time Wednesday (11:20 p.m. Tuesday ET). The attack was confirmed in a tweet from Col. Wayne Marotto, the military spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the 83-member coalition to defeat ISIS.
Iraqi security forces are leading the response and investigation, he added.
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Major General Tahseen al-Khafaji of the Iraqi security forces told NBC News that the attack happened at 7:30 a.m. local time (11:30 p.m. ET) and that there were no casualties or damages reported at the base. Security forces were investigating who was behind the attack, he added.
Wednesday’s rocket attack follows a U.S. airstrike last week in eastern Syria that killed one fighter in an Iranian-backed militia and wounded two others, according to the Pentagon.
That operation was the first known use of military force by the Biden administration and was carried out in retaliation for a deadly rocket attack on a U.S.-led coalition base in Irbil in Kurdish northern Iraq last month, as well as two other attacks.
The rocket attack in Irbil on Feb. 15 was the most deadly attack to hit U.S.-led forces in the country for almost a year, and carried echoes of another attack in December 2019 that triggered a dangerous escalation between Iran and the United States.
The latest attack could stoke fears of a repeat of last year’s tit-for-tat escalation, that culminated in the U.S. assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq last January.
Iran retaliated less than a week later by firing missiles at American troops in Iraq, injuring dozens of U.S. service members who suffered traumatic brain injury. Ain al-Asad airbase was one of two bases targeted by Iran.
NBC News had previously reported that Iranian-backed militias were most likely behind the Irbil rocket attack in February, and that the weapons and tactics resembled previous attacks by the Iranian-linked militias. However, it was unclear if Iran had encouraged or ordered the rocket attack.
Following the attack on the Irbil base last month, Iraq’s Balad air base came under rocket fire days later, where a U.S. defense firm services the country’s fighter jets, and then two rockets landed near the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.
The latest rocket attack comes two days before Pope Francis is due to travel to Iraq in what would be the first-ever papal visit to the Middle Eastern country.
Francis had intended to visit Iraq in 2014, as did St. John Paul II in 2000, but both had to call off their trips due to security concerns, according to The Associated Press.