On Saturday night, two missiles, one targeting the Green Zone where the American Embassy is located and another the Taji base north of Baghdad, were launched.
The first rocket was launched from the Ali al-Saleh area of Baghdad and landed next to a home close to a TV station in the Green Zone, injuring a child, a military statement said. The child suffered head injuries and the house was damaged.
“At the same time, our forces were able to thwart another attack and seize a Katyusha rocket and launcher that were targeting the Taji base north of Baghdad, where U.S.-led coalition troops are based,” the statement added.
The Iranian militias denied responsibility for the latest attacks. This stood in stark contrast to their belligerent tone struck last week, when Qais al-Khazali, head of one the Iranian-proxy militias of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), had threatened the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi while admitting that they’ve been behind the missile attacks that have been happening all along.
“Don’t create any other issues and don’t get involved in other issues that might happen… Otherwise, you might lose everything,” Khazali had said.
“You want to resolve the attacks by the resistance factions against the U.S. forces, but you could never do that. None of the previous governments could do that and none of them took such an action. Instead, they were all ignoring this issue because they knew they couldn’t touch it,” he had added.
Since October, there have been about three dozen missile attacks, originating from Iraqi territory, that have targeted the American Embassy and bases where American troops are stationed. Washington has long blamed Iran, which directs these militias, of being behind the attacks.
Iraq has been stuck in the middle between Iran and the U.S. While both are ostensibly in Iraq to fight ISIS, the Iranian proxies are increasingly more concerned with forcing the Americans to leave, something they’ve stated openly for quite some time. Iraq had turned a blind eye to the missile attacks but when the Americans responded, Iraqi lawmakers, accused the U.S. of attacking Iraq’s sovereignty.
The government of Kadhimi is currently in talks with Washington about the future of American involvement in Iraq. Kadhimi has grown impatient with Iran having a carte blanche on Iraqi soil. And with Washington pushing the government to do more against the Iranian militias, Kadhimi finally acted.
The Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) had received intelligence about possible attacks against the Green Zone, according to a Joint Operations Command statement. The subsequent raid by CTS against the Kataib Hezbollah headquarters in Baghdad ended in the arrest of more than a dozen fighters and the seizure of three rocket launchers.
All but three of the arrested militia members were released a few days ago. They were promptly seen burning U.S. and Israeli flags, stomping on, and burning pictures of Kadhimi, who is their commander-in-chief. Such a move, while in uniform, would be akin to National Guard members burning pictures of the American president.
The militias have made it clear that their loyalty is to Iran first and to their own country second: Rather than follow orders from the national government, they take their orders from Tehran and frequently act as rogue elements.
Kadhimi is now further restricting the Iranian influence in Iraq. General Esmail Ghaani, the new commander of Iran’s Quds Force following the death of general Qassem Soleimani, had a surprise waiting for him when he arrived in Baghdad recently. He was required, along with a delegation he was leading, to obtain an official entry permit from the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to enter the country.
Some analysts believe that this is significant as this would never have happened to Soleimani, who came and went in Iraq unchecked, without any official approval or a visa, and often without an invitation.
The situation in Iraq remains a tense one. Washington will have to tread lightly and show support for Kadhimi as there is bound to be further pushback from Tehran over these latest developments.