An Iraqi military base, where U.S.-led coalition troops are based, was hit with 10 rockets Wednesday. This is the latest in a series of rocket attacks in Iraq just days before Pope Francis 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). Colonel Wayne Marotto, the military spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, took to Twitter to confirm the attack.
Iraqi security forces are leading the response and investigation, Marotto added. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet.
There were no immediate reports of any casualties. But CBS News reported that a contractor died of a heart attack after the missile attack. His nationality is unknown.
The base is the same one that Iran had struck with a barrage of ballistic missiles in January of 2020 in retaliation for the killing of Iranian MG Qassem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander who was responsible for the death of over 600 U.S. troops in Iraq.
After Iranian-led militias had conducted dozens of rocket attacks on U.S. bases and diplomatic facilities, the U.S. hit the militias with airstrikes. Then Solemani overplayed his hand and had the militias attack the U.S. Embassy. He and the Iraqi leader of the militias were killed in a drone strike soon after leaving Baghdad’s airport. Iran responded with a ballistic missile attack on the Al-Asad airbase. Dozens of U.S. servicemembers were injured with concussions in that strike.
After the missile attack of January 2020, the U.S. moved Patriot missile defense systems onto the Ain Al-Asad airbase. It is unknown if the missiles deployed or if they were successful.
Iraqi security forces have already found the rocket launchpad used at the attack: a flat-bed truck that was in flames when troops arrived. A picture was posted to Twitter by Mustafa al-Dulaimi (see featured image). The truck was found in the al-Baghdadi area of Anbar.
Wednesday’s attack follows the same gameplan that the Iranian-led militias have used many times in the past. On February 15, a similar type of rocket attack hit the airbase at Erbil and killed one foreign U.S. contractor, and wounded an American serviceman.
There were two other attacks recently, one on a base that housed U.S. servicemen, and the other on the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone of Baghdad. The U.S. responded with an airstrike on Iranian-led militia at a checkpoint on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border.
Over the weekend, Iranian militias also fired missiles at an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf.
British Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Hickey condemned Wednesday’s attack. “Coalition forces are in Iraq to fight [ISIS] at the invitation of the Iraqi government,” he tweeted. “These terrorist attacks undermine the fight against [ISIS] and destabilize Iraq.”
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod posted on Twitter, also condemning the attack. “Despicable attacks against Ain al-Asad base in #Iraq are completely unacceptable,” he wrote. The Danes have a couple of troops at Ain-Asad but they were unharmed, Kofod said.
Pope Francis released a statement that his visit to Iraq will continue as planned.
“The Iraqi people wait for us, they waited for Saint Pope John Paul II, his visit was not allowed to take place,” the Pope said, according to Reuters. “The people cannot be let down for a second time.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.