U.S. says it successfully prevented drone attacks on troops in Iraq early on Wednesday. This marks the first such attack on U.S. troops in Iraq in over a year. While the specific group responsible for the attack on the al-Asad air base remains unconfirmed, heightened tensions in the region due to the Israel-Hamas conflict have put Washington on alert for actions by Iran-backed groups.
Additionally, on the same day, another drone attack, targeting the al-Harir air base in Erbil, northern Iraq, where U.S. forces are stationed, was thwarted. A lesser-known group called Tashkil al-Waritheen, also known as the Inheritor, claimed responsibility for the attack on al-Harir.
Last week, Iraqi armed groups aligned with Iran had threatened to target U.S. interests using missiles and drones if the United States became involved in supporting Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
Although the Pentagon had provided air defenses and munitions to Israel, U.S. forces had not directly engaged in the fighting.
The attack drones were intercepted as they attempted to target the al Asad air base in Iraq, which is also home to American troops. The U.S. officials did not confirm the origin of the drones.
Accusations and criticism directed at the U.S. and Israel
This attack occurred shortly after an explosion at a Gaza hospital resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, escalating the situation. U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel to show support for the country’s conflict against Hamas.
Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the hospital attack, while Israel attributed the explosion to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. They denied responsibility.
In Iraq, tension had already been mounting due to the Gaza conflict. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, had condemned Israel and called for global action against the “terrible brutality” in Gaza.
Leaders of Iraqi armed groups held Israel responsible for the hospital attack, while some criticized the United States for supporting Israel.
Kataib Hezbollah, an influential armed faction with close ties to Iran, accused the United States of aiding Israel in “killing innocent people” and demanded the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
Iraqi politician Hadi Al-Amiri, linked to Iran, blamed Israel for the hospital attack in Iraq. He referred to it as a “massacre of the era,” suggesting it should be considered a war crime. Amiri criticized the U.S. and Western nations for supporting Israel and warned of potential consequences.
The United States currently maintains 2,500 troops in Iraq, with an additional 900 in Syria. Their mission is to advise and assist local forces in the fight against the Islamic State. In previous years, Iran-backed militias had frequently targeted U.S. forces and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad with rocket attacks. Such attacks had lessened due to a truce in place since last year, providing Iraq with a relatively calm period.
U.S. officials have accused Kataib Hezbollah of previous attacks on U.S. interests, although the group has denied these allegations.
A demonstration by members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an Iraqi state paramilitary organization comprising various Iran-backed factions, took place on Tuesday in protest of the Gaza hospital attack. Demonstrators expressed anti-U.S. and anti-Israel sentiments and attempted to approach the U.S. embassy in the fortified Green Zone. However, security forces prevented their entry.