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Iraqi forces thwart rocket attack near US troops

Iraq's success in stopping a rocket attack comes after dialogue with the United States on reducing US troop levels and protecting international coalition forces in the country.
Iraqi security forces demonstrate their skills during a graduation ceremony at an Iraqi army base in Camp Taji in Baghdad, February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad - GF10000317853

Iraqi security forces stopped rockets from being fired near US troop positions north of Baghdad yesterday. It was the latest of such attacks on US forces over the months and a notable success for the Iraqi military in preventing them.

Iraq's Security Media Cell, an official military body that reports on security matters, said they seized a group of rockets in the Rashidiya area north of Baghdad yesterday, just east of Camp Taji where US troops are located. Two rockets that did go off during the “terrorist act” landed in a remote area and resulted in no casualties, according to the Cell.

“Our forces were able to obtain important information leading to knowledge of those who carried out this terrorist act,” the Cell said in a series of tweets.

The Cell did not provide further information on who carried out the attack.

There have been several attacks on US forces in Iraq so far this year and in 2019. The US military is in Iraq to help the country fight the Islamic State (IS) as part of the global anti-IS coalition. One of the most notable attacks targeting US forces was at the Taji base in March and led to US service members being killed. Many such attacks go unclaimed, but the United States suspects Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) are the culprits. Tensions escalated even further between the United States and Iran after Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US drone attack in Baghdad in January following attacks by militia supporters on the US Embassy there.

The conflict between the United States and some armed PMU aligned with Iran has put Iraq in a difficult position. Iraq receives help from the United States against IS, which is still active throughout the country. Neighboring Iran, which backs some PMU groups, is also a major political and economic ally of Iraq. The PMU also wield considerable power and was helpful in defeating IS.

The news of the thwarted rocket attacks is significant because it shows Iraq is able to stop such incidents from occurring. Many previous attacks, while not always causing considerable damage or casualties, successfully hit where US troops are based in Iraq.

The Security Media Cell said this attack targeted Iraqi forces and was “without losses.” There are no exclusively US bases in Iraq, and US troops stay alongside Iraqi and other international coalition forces.

The successful Iraqi operation follows dialog between Iraq and the United States on reducing American troop levels in the country. The Iraqi parliament voted to expel US forces in January following the air strike against Soleimani. The United States has removed troops since then during the coronavirus pandemic. In a joint statement last week, the United States and Iraq said the former would continue to pull out forces due to Iraq’s success against IS. Iraq also promised to protect US forces during the talks.

The United States granted Iraq a lengthened waiver to Iran sanctions allowing them to import Iranian electricity after speaking to Kadhimi.