After missile attacks in Iraq on Wednesday, March 11 caused twelve injuries and three casualties, the United States retaliated. According to the Pentagon, the target of the “defensive precision strike” were five weapon storage facilities.
What Happened in the Attack?
The attackers fired around 18 missiles at the Taji military base, some 12 miles north of Baghdad, on Wednesday. While in the immediate aftermath, no claims were made, Shiite militia officers of Kataib Hezbollah celebrated the attacks on social networks on Thursday. The group is supported by Iran and has long called for the withdrawal of Western troops from the region.
A few hours later, several bases of pro-Iranian militia officers were bombed at the Syrian-Iraqi border area near the small town of Albu Kamal. At least twenty-six militia officers were reportedly killed. The target was five weapons storage facilities belonging to the Kataib Hezbollah militia, which the USA suspected of being the culprit behind the attack on the base in Taji.
US Sec. Def. Esper: ‘We Have Got to Hold the Perpetrators Responsible’
The United States initially denied any responsibility for the operation. On Thursday evening, however, the Pentagon announced that it had indeed reacted to the rocket attack with airstrikes. “Yesterday’s attack by Iranian backed Shia militia groups consisted of multiple indirect fires that originated from a stationary platform and was targeting coalition and partner forces on Camp Taji,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated at the Pentagon. “We are going to take this one step at a time. But we have got to hold the perpetrators accountable. You don’t get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it,” Esper continued.
Fears of Escalation
In Iraq, the Wednesday attacks had raised fears of a further escalation between Washington and Tehran, as previously caused at the end of December when an American-Kurdish translator was killed in a missile attack on a base near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
The United States subsequently bombed bases of the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah in the border region between Iraq and Syria, killing more than 50 terrorists. What followed was militia marching in Baghdad’s government district and attacking the American embassy. President Trump then gave the green light for a counterattack that killed Qasem Soleimani and Hezbollah chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Soleimani, a designated terrorist, was the commander of the Quds Brigades and responsible for Iran’s (terrorism) strategy in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Wednesday would have been his birthday. Accordingly, there was speculation that the attack on the Americans in Iraq was yet another act of revenge for Soleimani’s killing.
Tehran’s Revenge for Soleimani
The first immediate act of revenge occurred in early January when Tehran fired 16 cruise missiles at Ain al-Asad Air Force Base in western Iraq. While the attack did not cause casualties, more than a hundred American soldiers suffered severe concussions.
However, Hezbollah’s conduct has also been detrimental to the diplomatic relations between Baghdad and Washington, which resulted in the Iraqi government demanding the withdrawal of some 5200 American soldiers. In addition, pro-Iranian Shiite militias threatened the US with additional severe retaliation. The latter has been observed in recent weeks as American military bases have been repeatedly attacked with missiles.
Acting Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi: Taji Attack ‘A Serious Security Threat’
Meanwhile, Iraqi’s acting Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who led the withdrawal bill in January, now called the Taji attack a “serious security threat” and the act of an enemy. The UN agency in Iraq also condemned the attack in an unusual step. The attack was distracting from Iraq’s ongoing internal problems as the last thing Iraq needs is to serve as “an arena for Vendettas and external struggles,” a statement says.
Besides the security situation in the country, the latest escalation also carries other severe implications. In addition to the political crisis, the country is also struggling with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. According to official information, 79 Iraqis have been infected so far, and at least eight patients have died.
Moreover, the pandemic is likely to severely strain the country economically, with the government being more than 90 percent dependent on its oil revenues. Due to the pandemic, however, oil prices have not only decreased but demand from China, the largest importer of Iraqi oil, has also declined.