Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

Iraq: two rockets land near US embassy in Baghdad

The latest attack within the walled-off Green Zone comes amid heightened tension between Washington and Tehran

The US embassy building in the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad, Iraq, 19 May 2019. EPA
The US embassy building in the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad, Iraq, 19 May 2019. EPA

Two rockets landed near the United States embassy in Baghdad early Tuesday, the latest apparent incident as tension has risen between Washington and Tehran, which wields extensive influence in the Iraqi capital as a backer of the country's Shiite militias.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts. One rocket exploded inside the Green Zone and another landed in the Tigris River, Iraqi security services said.

A rocket fired from eastern Baghdad landed in the area in May, close to the US embassy, and was also not claimed. Such incidents have been rare but sporadic in the Iraqi capital in recent years.

A foreign security source inside the Green Zone said two 100mm rockets hit close to the US embassy and a third fell into the Tigris River, which the embassy overlooks.

"One hit about three meters inside a gate on the embassy compound," the source said.

An Iraqi security source confirmed to AFP that two Katyusha rockets landed near the embassy shortly before midnight.

They were found to have been fired from an area in southern Baghdad where Iraqi paramilitary forces close to Iran hold sway.

The Iraqi military said two missiles hit the edges of the Green Zone.

Foreign diplomatic sources within the zone said US embassy sirens wailed across the area twice, and stopped shortly before 1:00am local time on Tuesday morning.

After decades of back-to-back conflicts, Iraq has enjoyed a period of relative stability since declaring victory over ISIS in late 2017.

In a sign of the improving security situation, Iraqi authorities have been working since last year to loosen security restrictions around the Green Zone.

Concrete blast walls have been removed and through-traffic has been allowed for the first time in more than a decade, but the US embassy remains one of the most highly-secured areas in the zone.

Baghdad has also tried to position itself as a potential mediator between the US and Iran, which have been at loggerheads since Washington unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran last year.

Since that move, tensions have spiralled between the two countries, with Iraq — where both countries enjoy significant political and military influence — caught in the middle.

The risk of a proxy war seemed particularly high this summer, when a string of mysterious blasts hit weapons depots and other bases used by pro-Iran paramilitary forces known as the Hashed al-Shaabi.

The Hashed blamed the US and Israel, with its political branch calling the attacks "a declaration of war" and resuming its calls for US troops to leave the country.

Updated: September 24, 2019 03:01 PM

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