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New rocket barrage hits Iraq’s Camp Taji where US and UK soldiers killed

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFP) – A fresh spate of rockets targeted an Iraqi base north of Baghdad on Saturday where foreign troops are deployed, Iraqi and U.S. security sources told AFP, in a rare daytime attack.

It was the 23rd such attack since late October on installations across Iraq where American troops and diplomats are based, with the latest rounds growing deadlier.

None of the attacks have ever been claimed but the U.S. has blamed hardline elements of the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units), a network of armed groups incorporated into the Iraqi state.

At least 33 rockets hit Iraqi air defense units at the Taji air base on Saturday, March 14, the country’s military said, in one of the largest such volleys yet.

“The initial toll is two wounded Iraqi Air Defence personnel who are in very critical condition,” said Tahsin al-Khafaji, spokesperson for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command.

The U.S.-led Coalition said three of its members were also wounded in the attack.

Iraq’s military said it had found another 24 missiles at a nearby launching site and had detained the owner of the plot of land as well as security forces from an adjacent checkpoint for questioning.

The U.S.-led Coalition’s surveillance capabilities have been impaired by cloudy weather in recent days, which a U.S. official said may have contributed to the attackers’ readiness to launch the rockets during the day instead of under the cover of night.

Taji is overcrowded with members of the Coalition helping Iraq fight Islamic State remnants, after units were moved to the air base from other installations.

It came three days after a similar attack on the base killed two American military personnel and a British soldier – the deadliest such incident at an Iraqi base in years.

The U.S. responded Friday with airstrikes on arms depots it said were used by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-aligned faction within the Hashd.

At least five members of Iraq’s security forces and one civilian were killed, none of them members of the Hashed, according to Iraq’s military.

Iraq has long feared it would get caught in the spiraling tensions between Iran and the U.S., its two main allies.

They dramatically spiked in late 2019 when a U.S. contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a separate base in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, leading to retaliatory American strikes on Kataib Hezbollah.

Days later, a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and Hashd deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Iran launched ballistic missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq while the Iraqi parliament voted to expel all foreign soldiers from its soil, a decision that has yet to be implemented.

Some 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led Coalition helping local troops root out the remnants of ISIS.

Top U.S. military and civilian officials had long expressed frustration that Iraq’s government was not doing enough to prevent rocket attacks targeting U.S. troops and diplomats.

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