On another violent day in Iraq following the U.S. drone strike on Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani, two Iraqi troops were killed in an attack by Islamic State militants in Kirkuk and, on the same day, more rockets fell in Baghdad’s Green Zone, according to the official Twitter account of the Iraqi security forces.
In Kirkuk, “two fighters were killed and three wounded, after exposure to members of the ISIS terrorist gangs ... in the ‘Tal Diab village’ in Daquq district, in the section of the advance headquarters in the province of Kirkuk,” according to the ISF.
And in Baghdad, "three Katyusha rockets fell, two inside the Green Zone and the third near the Al-Shuhada Establishment in Baghdad,” according to the ISF.
On social media, Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian aligned Shia militia whose leader Abu Madhi al-Munandis was killed three days ago along with Soleimani, threatened attacks Sunday.
A source at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad told Military Times that the recent rocket attack against the embassy compound appears to be more than the usual scare tactic, and that the volley of rocket fire appears to be increasing.
The source, who spoke to Military Times on condition of anonymity, explained previous rocket attacks were often scare tactics and would miss.
All this comes as the Iraqi parliament voted Sunday in a non-binding referendum to kick U.S. troops out of the country. Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria announced that U.S. troops in Iraq were pausing the training of Iraqis as threats to coalition troops housed at Iraqi bases persisted.
Following Saturday’s rocket attack on the Balad Air Base and an indirect fire attack in Baghdad, officials with Operation Inherent Resolve say there have now been 13 attacks against bases housing American forces in the past two months.
“As a result we are now fully committed to protecting the Iraqi bases that host Coalition troops. This has limited our capacity to conduct training with partners and to support their operations against Daesh and we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review,” OIR said in a news release. Daesh is an Arabic language term for ISIS.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that the NATO Iraq training mission had also been suspended in light of the dire security situation following the U.S. strike that killed Soleimani.
“Our first priority is protecting all Coalition personnel committed to the defeat of Daesh. Repeated rocket attacks over the last two months by elements of Kata’ib Hezbollah have caused the death of Iraqi Security Forces personnel and a U.S. civilian," OIR said in a statement.
U.S. officials believe Kata’ib Hezbollah is responsible for a number of rocket attacks against coalition bases, to include the deadly rocket attack on the Kirkuk base that killed an American contractor and wounded four Americans on Dec. 27. Dozens of 107 mm rockets slammed the Kirkuk base, precipitating events that led to a U.S. strike against Kata’ib Hezbollah on Dec. 29, and attempts by the Iran-backed militia to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
“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 Army Gen. Mark Milley explained to reporters describing the Kirkuk attack.
While U.S. officials just announced Sunday that the U.S. military was suspending an Iraqi military training program, a source on the Kirkuk base told Military Times that American commandos at Kirkuk halted its Iraqi training program following the Dec. 27 rocket attack.
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.