US sends 30 armoured vehicles to Iraq one year on from Suleimani’s death

Iraqis say they are anxious about what could happen in the days leading up to January 3, the date on which the Quds Force commander was assassinated

This file photo taken on October 11, 2007 shows in the forefront the US embassy complex in Baghdad and in the background, cranes towering over the construction site of the International High Tribunal (IHT) courthouse, in the heavily fortified Green Zone, on the west bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad. A volley of rockets exploded near the US embassy in Baghdad on December 20,2020, as tensions mount ahead of the anniversary of the US killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. / AFP / STR

Washington said on Wednesday it had provided Iraq’s army with dozens of armoured vehicles to secure the Green Zone before the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.

The area, located within Iraq’s capital Baghdad, is where the US and several other western countries’ embassies and government buildings are positioned. It is relatively well known as a safe zone but has been the target of continuous rocket attacks during the last year.

“We are committed to assist the Iraqi army in maintaining the country’s security. To achieve this goal, the United States provided the Iraqi army with 30 armoured cars to help secure the international zone,” the US embassy in Baghdad said in a statement published on Facebook.

The vehicles were given to the Special Command Division at Al Assad Air Base, and will be used by the Iraqi military in their patrols, the statement said.

Suleimani was assassinated in a US air strike on January 3, 2020, in Baghdad, that also killed Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis.

The provision of the vehicles is part of “larger plan by the US to support the SCD in securing the capital, Baghdad,” the US embassy said.

“We will continue to work together to ensure a stable and secure future for the Iraqi people.”

Rockets have often been fired at the embassy to protest the presence of US troops in Iraq.

Washington has placed the blame on Iran-backed Iraqi militias but no side has claimed responsibility.

The latest attack on the Green Zone was last week, when eight small rockets launched.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the attack and said it was carried out by Iranian forces.

No embassy staff were injured, but the rocket did damage some residential property surrounding the Green Zone, Mr Pompeo said.

Minor damage was caused to the embassy building and the zone’s missile defence system was activated to deflect the attack, the embassy said.

The Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, said his country played no part in the repeated attacks on the embassy and Green Zone.

The US and Iran came close to war following rocket attacks on Iraqi bases hosting American forces and US air strikes against militia groups this year.

It has left many Iraqis anxious about what might happen as the anniversary of Suleimani’s assassination neared.

"We are afraid that Iran or Shiite militias might act foolishly and provoke [US President Donald] Trump, putting the country and civilians in danger," a Baghdad resident told The National on condition of anonymity.

“Since early this year, they [militias] have spread fear all over Baghdad with their rockets flying over houses to hit the Green Zone, injuring and killing only civilians,” said the 46-year-old man, who lives near the Green Zone.

Mr Trump announced plans for a troop withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan by January 15, 2021, days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The planned withdrawal will leave about 2,500 troops in both countries.

* Additional reporting by Sinan Mahmood in Baghdad