The US Embassy in Baghdad has warned Americans about potential security threats in Iraq follows several attacks targeting the US military in the country.
The embassy published a security alert on Friday saying, “Extremist groups and regional actors have conducted destructive and sometimes lethal attacks against a variety of targets.” The embassy listed airports, tourist attractions, transportation centers, malls, government facilities and other places frequented by Americans and Westerners as potential targets. People living near military bases are especially at risk, according to the embassy.
The alert did not mention any groups in particular, but referenced “Iran-supported groups” and “Iraqi militants” as the potential culprits.
There have been numerous attacks in Iraq lately linked to Iran’s militia allies. On Feb. 15, several rockets targeted US forces in Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, killing a contractor and injuring others including civilians. A group named Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed credit. On Feb. 22, rockets hit Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the American and other foreign embassies are located. There were no casualties. On Wednesday, the US military said that an American military contractor died of a heart attack following an attack on Iraq’s al-Asad air base. The embassy warning came two days later.
The US government has laid the blame on Iran-backed militias within Iraq, particularly Kataib Hezbollah. On Feb. 25, the US military struck a Syrian border crossing frequently used by the group and another militia called Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, killing one fighter. The embassy’s statement further indicates the United States holds Iran and its allies accountable for the attacks.
The embassy warning came on the same day the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, arrived in Iraq. The embassy did not mention the pope’s highly publicized trip in its announcement. A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah criticized the pope coming to Iraq ahead of the visit.
There are numerous militias within Iraq. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) consist of groups that formed to fight the Islamic State in 2014. They are predominantly Shiite Muslims, but there are also Sunni Muslim and Christians as well. Some PMU groups, including Kataib Hezbollah, are backed by Iran. Some others groups are close to top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
There are 2,500 US troops in Iraq in Baghdad's Green Zone, Erbil International Airport and al-Asad airbase in the western Anbar province.