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Drones shot down in Baghdad on Soleimani death anniversary

The thwarted attack came on the second anniversary of the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images

The US-led coalition in Iraq shot down two armed drones approaching Baghdad International Airport early on Monday, a coalition official confirmed to Al-Monitor. The airport houses an Iraqi military base where coalition troops are present.

Photos of the damaged drones circulated on social media. The words “operations of the leaders’ revenge” marked the wing of one of the devices, in reference to the US assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3, 2020.

The coalition’s C-RAM air defenses disabled the suicide drones around 4:30 a.m. local time, preventing any casualties or damages, according to BBC and Reuters, citing Iraqi security sources and coalition officials. No group has yet claimed credit for the attack. 

Why it matters

  • Iran-backed militias in Iraq have launched regular rocket and drone attacks on international coalition positions in the wake of the war against the Islamic State. The barrages have occasionally proven deadly and have raised concern in Washington about Iran-backed militias’ knowledge of sensitive US intelligence sites in Iraq.
  • The attacks have largely fallen quiet in recent months since the Biden administration announced it would withdraw remaining combat forces from Iraq before Jan. 1, but militias such as Kataib Sayyid Shuhada have vowed to restart the attacks should any US troops remain in the country. Some 2,500 military advisers and support personnel are still there.
  • US defense officials have been taking the threats seriously, but so far only one attack has materialized since the new year. Unconfirmed reports overnight of a rocket bombardment of a US base across the border at al-Omar oilfield in Syria were quickly declared false by the coalition.
  • Occasional drone and rocket attacks on US positions in Syria have continued in recent months, however. Last month, US forces at the remote al-Tanf garrison received support from UK fixed-wing aircraft when two drones penetrated the airspace around their base. That successful downing came several weeks after a barrage of at least five drones targeted sleeping quarters and a gym used by US special forces at al-Tanf. US troops were relocated ahead of the attack after receiving prior warning and there were no reported casualties. The head of US forces in the Middle East, Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, later said the attackers "were clearly trying to kill Americans."

What to watch for: 

  • Today is the second anniversary of the US assassination of IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani, and Iraqi militias have been vowing revenge.
  • In November, the home of Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was targeted by explosive-laden drones in an apparent assassination attempt. The attack, which was widely condemned in Iraq, came a day after the head of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq publicly threatened the premier.
  • Across the border in Syria, drone and rocket attacks on US positions often follow Israeli airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in that country, which the United States has supported in the past with intelligence on Iran-backed groups.
  • As negotiations in Vienna continue over Iran's nuclear program, Tehran and its proxies may opt for less provocation against the United States and its allies in the Middle East for now.
  • Also on Monday, the Jerusalem Post's website was hacked and its front page replaced with an illustration of a missile racing toward the earth. "We are close to you where you do not think about it," the image read. The hack follows a pattern of domain seizures and cyberattacks amid tensions between the United States and Iran.