Terrorism

Rockets target US interests in Iraq despite arrests

By AFP

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A picture taken on February 27th shows the parliament building in Baghdad's Green Zone. [Sabah Arar/AFP]

Two rocket attacks targeted US diplomatic and military installations overnight Saturday (July 4th), Iraq's security forces said Sunday, a little over a week since unprecedented arrests prevented a similar incident.

Since October, US diplomats and troops across Iraq have been targeted by around three dozen missile attacks which Washington has blamed on pro-Iran armed factions.

In the first move of its kind, elite Iraqi troops in late June arrested more than a dozen Tehran-backed fighters who were allegedly planning a new attack on Baghdad's Green Zone, home to the US and other foreign embassies.

Iraqi government officials said the raid would serve as a "message" to deter future attacks, but early on Sunday, militants made another attempt.

One rocket fired at the Green Zone landed near a home, wounding a child, according to the Iraqi military.

"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 US-led coalition troops are based, it added.

The attempts came just hours after the US embassy tested a new rocket defence system known as a C-RAM, according to a senior Iraqi security source.

The C-RAM, set up earlier this year at the embassy, scans for incoming projectiles and explodes them in the air by targeting them with several thousand bullets per minute.

US 'applauds' arrests

The US blames the attacks on Kataib Hizbullah, a Tehran-backed faction within Iraq's state-sponsored network of armed units known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

Washington has demanded Iraqi authorities be tougher on the group. Local forces had long hesitated, fearing that direct action against such a powerful actor would risk broader confrontations.

But last month, state security forces carried out the first raid of its kind against a Kataib Hizbullah base on the edges of Baghdad, seizing rockets and arresting 14 fighters allegedly planning an attack on the Green Zone. Within days, all but one of the fighters were released.

The arrests were hailed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said rogue groups are "the single biggest obstacle to additional assistance or economic investment" for Iraq.

"Baghdad's actions are a step in the right direction and we applaud them," he said last week.

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