US troops injured by Iran proxies in ballistic missile attack in Iraq

Since Israel-Gaza war began, American military has come under almost daily attacks

American soldiers keep watch at the Qayyarah airbase, where US-led troops in 2017 helped Iraqis plan the fight against ISIS in northern Iraq. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Several US personnel and a member of Iraq's security forces were wounded in a ballistic missile attack on Ain Al Asad airbase, west of Baghdad, on Saturday, the US military said.

The strike on the US base in Anbar province, which mainly houses Iraqi forces, is the largest missile attack on US troops since Iran struck the same base in 2020, in retaliation for an attack that killed Iranian Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani near Baghdad.

Iran-backed militant groups fired a number of ballistic missiles and rockets from inside Iraq at about 6.30pm local time, the US military confirmed.

“The air defence systems in the base intercepted most of the missiles, while others landed in the base,” a statement said.

US forces did not confirm the extent of any injuries but said personnel were being evaluated for “head injuries”, while “damage assessments are ongoing”.

Since the Israel-Gaza war began in October, the US military has come under attack at least 58 times in Iraq and another 83 times in Syria by Iran-backed militants, usually with a mix of rockets and one-way attack drones.

The militants are seeking to impose a cost on the US for its support of Israel against the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas.

In a dangerous development, Iran on Monday struck Erbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, with ballistic missiles in what it said was an attack on Israeli spy headquarters, a claim denied by Iraqi and Iraqi-Kurdish officials. The strikes, Iran said, were in retaliation for attacks inside Iran and an assassination of four senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' advisers in Syria.

Five civilians, including two children, were killed in the missile strike in Erbil, Iraqi authorities said.

The UN special representative to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on Saturday appealed to all sides to exercise maximum restraint.

"The Middle East is at a critical juncture, with the conflict raging in Gaza and armed action elsewhere threatening a major conflagration," Ms Plasschaert said in a statement.

"Iraq is at risk of being drawn even further into this conflict."

These attacks, she warned, "stand to undo the hard-won stability of the country and the achievements it has made in recent years".

Iraq is deeply concerned about becoming a battleground for fighting between the US, Israel and Iran.

Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani announced moves to evict US forces after the escalation between them and Tehran-allied Shiite militias. More than a dozen fighters, including a senior militia leader, have been killed in US strikes.

The Pentagon said it has not been formally notified of any plans to end US troop presence in the country and says its forces are deployed to Iraq at the invitation of the government in Baghdad.

The US has 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq on a mission to advise and assist local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of ISIS, which in 2014 seized large parts of both those countries before being defeated.

Updated: January 21, 2024, 8:49 AM