On Sunday, eight rockets slammed into an airbase in Balad, Iraq, wounding an Iraqi air force officer and three Iraqi enlisted men. Although the Americans have used that base for training and operations, no Americans were injured and few were even present at the time of this latest attack.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter and he indirectly pointed the finger at Iranian-led proxy militias as the true culprit in the attack. “These continued violations of Iraq’s sovereignty by groups not loyal to the Iraqi government must end.”
Earlier he posted that he was, “Outraged by reports of another rocket attack on an Iraqi airbase. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured and call on the government of Iraq to hold those responsible for these attacks accountable.”
Some of the Katyusha rockets hit a restaurant inside the airbase, while others hit the runway and the gate. Balad was formerly home to American trainers, advisors and a company that provided maintenance services for the Iraqi F-16 aircraft, according to an Iraqi defense official.
Most of the Americans had been withdrawn from Balad following the heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington. Most of the American maintenance crews were moved to Erbil and Taji after the violence began. There are presently no more than 15 Americans at Balad.
A number of bases that house U.S. and Iraqi troops have been hit over a dozen times by rocket fire in the past several months. Several Iraqis have become casualties and a few weeks ago an American contractor was killed in a rocket attack that wounded several Iraqi soldiers. The U.S. responded with a tit-for-tat bombing of several of the Iranian-led proxy militias responsible for the rocket attacks in both Syria and Iraq.
Iranian-led militias then attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad over a period of two days, setting fire to some of the outbuildings and attempting to scale the walls. When the head of Iran’s Quds Forces Major General Qassem Soleimani, who had been giving the orders to the militias, arrived in Baghdad, the U.S. hit his convoy with a drone strike, killing Soleimani as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the umbrella group encompassing all of the Iranian-led proxies.
Iran responded with missile attacks against several bases where U.S troops are housed. On the same night, the Iranians mistakenly shot down a Ukranian airliner, which had just taken off from Tehran, thinking that it was an American aircraft. After that, an uneasy but welcomed silence prevailed as both sides plied social media rather than arms. Until Sunday.
On Sunday night after the latest rocket attack, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, another Iranian-led group, gave a 90-minute speech where he demanded the United States vacate Iraq.
“The Americans must remove their bases, soldiers, officers, and ships from our region. They should leave,” he said, intimating that the rocket attacks on the U.S. bases were just the beginning.
Meanwhile, in Tehran, protests against the government continued on Sunday night. This marked the second straight day of protests as Iranian citizens were incensed over the government’s lying about the shootdown of the airliner, which killed 176 people including 82 Iranians.
The protesters were caught on camera chanting: “They are lying that our enemy is America. Our enemy is right here!” Iranian security forces fired tear gas into the crowds. There have also been unsubstantiated reports that the security forces also fired live ammunition.