US military downs three drones in Iraq as Shiite militias call for action

Iran-backed Shiite militias have vowed to attack US troops if Washington chooses to enter the Gaza war

Iraqis protest in Baghdad after hundreds of Palestinians were killed in a blast at Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. Reuters
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The US military shot down three drones approaching a major airbase in western Iraq on Wednesday, the US Central Command confirmed.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Shiite militia group claimed it had attacked Harir base, which also houses US forces in the self-ruled Kurdish region with a drone.

The attack was thwarted, according to an Iraqi security official in the Kurdish region.

The US Central Command said it engaged with two drones in western Iraq, destroying one and damaging the second. The incident resulted in minor injuries to coalition troops.

US forces destroyed a third drone in northern Iraq, resulting in no injuries.

The incidents came hours after Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq called for action against US troops in the country following an Israeli strike on a Gaza hospital.

Gaza officials estimate that more than 500 people were killed in the Israeli air strike on Al Ahli Arab Hospital on Tuesday night. Israel denied responsibility.

“The Zionist entity has exceeded all boundaries in terms of aggressions, violations, killings, destruction and displacement that this occupying entity has engaged in,” Asaib Ahl Al Haq, an Iran-backed group, said in a statement.

“We understand that the language of condemnation and denunciation has lost its meaning in the face of this terrible humanitarian tragedy.

“Only practical actions are now effective, each according to their capacity,” the statement added.

Similar statements were made by other armed Shiite factions.

Kataib Hezbollah, also closely aligned with Iran, poured scorn on the US administration for its support of Israel. Its former leader, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, was killed in a US air strike near Baghdad airport in January 2020, along with Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp's elite Quds Force.

The drone attack brought the US and Iran to the brink of war.

“The continued presence of US troops in Iraq could lead to massacres against Iraqis that could be more gruesome than what happened in Gaza,” Kataib Hezbollah said.

“These evildoers must leave the country otherwise they will face the fire of hell on Earth,” it added.

Sheikh Akram Al Kaabi, the leader of Harakat Al Nujabaa, published on X, formerly Twitter, a verse from the Quran, encouraging Muslims to launch attacks against their enemies.

Only practical actions are now effective, each according to their capacity
Asaib Ahl Al Haq militant group

The drones were intercepted early on Wednesday morning over the perimeters of the Ain Al Asad base in Anbar province, which hosts US troops, they said. Most of the forces on the base are Iraqi, while a small number of Nato troops are also present.

It was unclear if they were explosive-laden drones or merely surveillance drones, the sources said.

No group claimed responsibility for the Ain Al Asad attack. A US defence official told The National that US forces had shot down two “one-way” drones, or attack drones. There were no injuries or fatalities.

Al Waritheen group said the attack, which occurred at noon, was to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. It did not give more details.

The development came as tensions in the region soar over the Israel-Gaza war. Iran-backed Shiite militias have vowed to attack US troops if Washington chooses to take part in the war.

The Ain Al Asad airbase, the US embassy in Baghdad and a US facility near Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq have often been targeted by Shiite militias in recent years.

These attacks stopped in late October when Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, who enjoys significant militia support, took office.

There are about 2,500 US troops still in Iraq on an advisory and training mission, but their presence remains controversial.

After defeating ISIS, Iran-backed Shiite militias and Tehran have called for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Thomas Watkins contributed to this report from Washington

Updated: October 18, 2023, 9:00 PM