The United States is finally moving some air defense systems into place in Iraq after bases that house U.S. troops have been attacked with rocket and missile fire for months. The Pentagon didn’t specify which bases the air defense systems will be deployed to. 

However, Al Jazeera reported that according to Iraqi and U.S. military sources that a Patriot missile battery was placed at Ain al-Assad in western Iraq and is now being close to operational. Another battery is reportedly being placed in Erbil, at a base in the Kurdish region, while two more batteries are still in Kuwait. 

Ain al-Assad was one of the bases that were attacked by Iranian proxies after the U.S. took out Iranian Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani with a missile attack in Baghdad in January. 

According to a report by Fox News, the military is deploying Patriot surface-to-air missiles and variants of the Navy’s SeaRAM and CIWS weapon system to help protect the troops. 

Meanwhile, Iran, which controls the proxy forces that have been attacking the bases called the purely defensive weapons “warmongering during the coronavirus outbreak” and warned that the American military activities in the region could lead it to “instability and disaster.”

Iran’s foreign ministry released a statement that said that the U.S. deployment runs “counter to the official position of the Iraqi government, parliament, and people.” American forces should “respect the wishes of the Iraqi people and government and leave the country”, the Iranian foreign ministry added.

U.S. leaders fear that Iran, suffering from a mounting death toll with the coronavirus outbreak, may use this timing to launch an attack.

The Iranians announced that there were an additional 138 deaths due to the coronavirus on Wednesday and claim that they’ve had only 3,036 deaths in total. Most analysts believe that number to be extremely low.  

President Trump, as he frequently does, took to Twitter on Wednesday warning that Iran “or its proxies” were planning a “sneak attack” on some of the 5,000 U.S. troops inside Iraq. He issued a warning of his own that if their troops or proxy militias conducted such an attack that the Iranians would pay a “very heavy price.”

Pentagon spokesman Sean Robertson said that “the U.S. is moving defensive systems into Iraq to protect Iraqi, coalition, and U.S. service members from a variety of air threats seen at Iraqi bases that host coalition troops.”

“It is important to note that repeated attacks on Iraqi bases, which violate Iraqi sovereignty, have killed and injured Iraqi, coalition, and U.S. service members. The establishment of ground-based air defenses in Iraq continues, but for operational security reasons, we are not providing status updates as those systems come online,” he added. 

“The Iraqi Government is well aware of our collective need for air defense protection of service members within Iraq, and we continue to coordinate closely with our Iraqi counterparts.”

The Patriot (MIM-104) is a long-range, all-altitude, all-weather air defense system made to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and advanced aircraft. The U.S. deployed the Patriot missile systems during the 2003 Iraq conflict. This system was stationed in Kuwait and destroyed a number of hostile surface-to-surface missiles using the new PAC-3 guidance enhanced missiles. The Patriot missile system uses its ground-based radar to find, identify, and track the targets. The new Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) missile has increased effectiveness against tactical ballistic and cruise missiles through the use of advanced hit-to-kill technology.

The SeaRAM CIWS is normally placed on Navy ships and is a complete combat weapon system that automatically detects, evaluates, tracks, engages, and performs kill assessment against ASM and high-speed aircraft threats in an extended self-defense battlespace envelope around a ship.

CIWS is a close-in weapon system against airborne threats such as anti-ship missiles and helicopters. The U.S.Navy normally uses a Phalanx CIWS system consisting of a radar-guided 20 mm Vulcan cannon mounted on a swiveling base. The land variant, known as the LPWS (Land Phalanx Weapon System), part of the C-RAM system, has recently been deployed in a short-range missile defense role, to counter incoming rockets, artillery, and mortar fire.