Flashpoints

Iraqis claim rockets land near Baghdad International Airport, Iran-backed militia leaders may be target

Iraq’s security media cell said that three Katyusha rockets landed near Baghdad International Airport early Friday morning local time as Iran tensions mount following deadly U.S. airstrikes Dec. 29 that targeted an Iran-backed militia.

Media reports suggest leaders of the Popular Mobilization Forces may have been targeted in a U.S. strike near the Baghdad airport. The Associated Press reported, citing PMF sources, that a strike hit two vehicles killing a senior member of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces. Others may have also been killed in the strike.

Popular Mobilization Forces are part of a larger umbrella group that includes a number of Shia militant groups supported by Iran.

Military Times reached out to Operation Inherent Resolve and the Pentagon seeking comment about this rocket attack near the Baghdad airport but did not immediately receive a response.

The Iraqi government said in a statement Thursday that the attack destroyed two vehicles and wounded several civilians.

No group has claimed responsibility for the latest rocket attack in Iraq, but if confirmed the country has now been hit with a spate of 12 rocket attacks over the last two months that have targeted U.S. interests or bases housing coalition troops.

The Pentagon has deployed a battalion of soldiers with the 82nd Airborne to bolster security across the Middle East in the wake of attempts by supporters of an Iran-backed militia to overrun the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Tuesday.

Roughly 100 Marines were also dispatched to the American embassy to reinforce security as members of and supporters of an Iran-backed militia tossed Molotov cocktails and attempted to storm the compound.

Several thousand more U.S. troops may be headed to the region to confront Iran’s malign behavior, a U.S. defense official told Military Times.

U.S. officials have fingered Iran and its proxy forces as responsible for a number of rocket attacks to include a deadly strike against a Kirkuk military installation that killed an American contractor and wounded four American troops.

“We know that the intent of this last attack was, in fact, to kill American soldiers sailors, airmen and Marines…. 31 rockets aren’t designed as a warning shot. That’s designed to inflict damage and kill," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley explained to reporters Thursday describing the Kirkuk attack.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday that he expects Iran and its proxy forces will carry out more attacks.

“Do I think they may do something? Yes. And they will likely regret it. We are prepared to exercise self defense and we are prepared to deter further bad heavier by these groups, all of which are sponsored and directed and resourced by Iran," Esper said.

“The game has changed, and we’re prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region,” Esper said Thursday.

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