Iraq does not want a war between US and Iran to be fought on its soil, Iraqi leaders said on Monday after a Katyusha rocket hit Baghdad's Green Zone near the American embassy.
The attack comes days after the US embassy said the State Department had instructed all non-emergency US government employees to leave Iraq amid a heightened security threat from Iran and its proxies.
There were no casualties or damage to the American embassy and no group claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack.
“I am against fuelling a war between Iran and the US. I am against including Iraq in this war and making it a platform for the conflict between Iran and America,” Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said on Twitter.
Mr Al Sadr urged Iraqi leaders to take a serious stand to keep the country out of war.
“This war will be the end of Iraq; instead, we need peace and reconstruction,” he said.
In what appeared to be a sign of de-escalation, Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades, a pro-Iranian faction, condemned the rocket attack.
“The attack on the Green Zone was unjustified and its timing is inappropriate and will not serve the public’s interest,” the group said in a statement.
Armed groups in Iraq were established to help the Iraqi army in its battle against ISIS. A number of these groups are armed and trained by forces linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
These militias are now under the Iraqi government’s command, but some maintain strong ties with Iran.
Iraq is perceived by many to be the theatre where US-Iranian hostility could play out, but it is clear that many Iraqi political figures do not want conflict, Renad Mansour, Iraq expert and senior research fellow at London's Chatham House, told The National.
“The attack, most likely by the Hezbollah Brigades, is message rather than an attack, not the first time, it is a message to Americans saying we are here and this is one way we could attack you,” Mr Mansour said.
Hadi Al Ameri, a prominent Iraqi militia commander and politician, said on Monday that if war ignites in Iraq "everyone will burn".
"We affirm that the social, historical and religious responsibilities of the country will deter any future threats of war in Iraq and the region," Mr Al Ameri said.
"Whoever is trying to ignite the war is ignorant."
In response, the US State Department said Washington would hold Iran responsible if any such attacks were found to be carried out by its proxy militias or elements of such forces, and would respond to Iran accordingly.
"We have made clear over the past two weeks and again underscore that attacks on US personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and will be responded to in a decisive manner," a State Department official told The National.
The official confirmed that the US and Iraq were in contact regarding the incident and were investigating the circumstances.
The rocket was launched from a street near the Technology University on the east side of the Tigris, an area home to Shiite factions, Hisham Al Hashimi, an Iraqi security and political expert, told The National.
"Although pro-Iranian allies in Iraq were quick to condemn the attack," he said.
The rocket attack "has embarrassed Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's security assurances to diplomatic missions in the Green Zone", Mr Al Hashimi said.
Fanar Haddad, an Iraq expert and senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore, said Baghdad was in a very unenviable position.
Iranian-American tensions and American bullishness on the issue are one of the main threats to Iraq's hard-won and still very precarious stability, Mr Haddad told The National.
"Iraq is extremely vulnerable to the effects of US-Iranian conflict given how structurally intertwined Iraqi interests are with both Iran and the US," he said.
Katyusha rockets were used in Iraq during fighting that rocked the country from 2003 to 2009 after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Rockets and mortar shells were routinely fired at the Green Zone.
Ammar Al Hakim, a Shiite cleric who heads Iraq's National Alliance for Reform, said the escalation between Tehran and Washington was a “concern for the region”.
Mr Al Hakim, who comes from an influential Shiite family, said Iraq had close ties with both Tehran and Washington and could play the role of mediator to reduce the tensions between them.
US President Donald Trump has warned Iran against any action that would harm Washington’s interests in Iraq or the region.