Another day, another ratcheting up of tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
The leader of Iran’s Quds Force, slain two days earlier in a U.S. drone strike, was mourned in a funeral procession. Indirect fire landed near two Iraqi bases housing U.S. and coalition forces — no troops were hurt, but Iraqi civilians might have been, officials from the anti-ISIS coalition say. And the President of the United States, Donald Trump, threatened Iran via his favorite means of communications.
Saying that the Iran “is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime,” Trump issued a "WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”
Army Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman, declined comment, deferring questions about the Tweet and whether cultural sites would be targeted to the White House.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, officials have increased security in the wake of the killing of Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani, said coalition military spokesman Col. Myles Caggins III.
“We have increased security and defensive measures at the Iraqi bases that host anti-ISIS Coalition troops,” said Caggins. “Our command places protection of Coalition personnel and security partners as the top priority; we remain vigilant and resolute.”
At 7:46 p.m. Baghdad time, the International Zone took indirect fire that landed outside of coalition facilities and potentially harmed Iraqi civilians, according to a release from CJTFOIR. At 7:50 p.m. rockets landed in the vicinity of Balad Air Base.
“No Coalition troops were harmed on Jan. 4,” said the release. “Iraqi Security Forces are currently investigating the incidents. We will release additional information when it becomes available.”
On the night of Jan 4., two rocket attacks occurred near Iraqi bases that host Coalition troops in Baghdad and Balad—a total of 13 attacks in the past two months, said Caggins. “Previous attacks, in November and December, killed and wounded Iraqi and Coalition personnel,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Iraqi security officials reported that rockets hit Balad Air Base, home to U.S. and coalition forces and aircraft, as well as the “Green Zone” in Baghdad.
The tweet did not say who fired the rockets.
The streets of Baghdad were filled with thousands who came to mourn the deaths of Soleimani and Iraqi Shia militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were among those killed two days earlier by a U.S. drone strike on a convoy near Baghdad International Airport.
The strike was ordered, according to the White House and Pentagon, because Soleimani was planning attacks on U.S. personnel. Muhandas was the leader of the Kateab Hezbollah, a Shia militia group that the U.S. says is behind a spate of attacks on U.S. facilities across Iraq during the past two months. One such attack, in Kirkuk on Dec. 27, killed a U.S. contractor, raising the stakes for President Donald Trump, who at the last minute cancelled a planned attack on Iranian facilities in June.
Back in June, security measures at the large Iraqi air base at Balad, which is also home to U.S. personnel and aircraft and Iraqi F-16s, were increased after it was struck by three mortars.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.