Iran may have been behind attack on Iraq’s Balad base, says US official

Washington has been concerned by a recent spate of attacks on Iraqi bases where some 5,200 US troops are deployed to help Iraqi forces ensure extremists do not regroup. (US army)
Updated 07 December 2019

Iran may have been behind attack on Iraq’s Balad base, says US official

  • Two Katyusha rockets landed inside Balad air base, which hosts US forces and contractors and is located about 80 kilometers north of Baghdad
  • Tensions in the Gulf in recent months have spiked after attacks on oil tankers and a September air strike on Saudi oil facilities

WASHINGTON: Iran may have been behind Thursday’s attack on Iraq’s Balad air base, a senior US State Department official said on Friday, but added that Washington was awaiting further evidence.
Iraqi military on Thursday said that two Katyusha rockets landed inside Balad air base, which hosts US forces and contractors and is located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
No casualties or damages were reported in the attack for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“We’re waiting for full evidence, but if past is prologue then there’s a good chance that Iran was behind it,” David Schenker, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters in a briefing.
On Tuesday, five rockets landed on Ain Al-Asad air base, which hosts US forces in Anbar province in western Iraq without causing any casualties.
Schenker called the increasing attacks something of “great concern,” and said Iran has become more aggressive over the past five to six months.
“The Iranians often times, or have certainly in the past, taken aggressive action when they feel under pressure,” he said.
The United States ratcheted up economic sanctions against Iran after US President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear pact between Tehran and world powers to choke Iran’s oil exports and isolate its economy.
In response, Tehran has remained defiant and rolled back commitments it made under the 2015 deal aimed at keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran also has been angry over a lack of European protection from US sanctions.
Some analysts have warned that cornering Tehran could make it more aggressive. Tensions in the Gulf in recent months have spiked after attacks on oil tankers and a September air strike on Saudi oil facilities, which the United States blamed on Iran, but that Tehran has denied. 


Successor to slain Iran general faces same fate if he kills Americans: US envoy

Updated 23 January 2020

Successor to slain Iran general faces same fate if he kills Americans: US envoy

  • Washington blamed Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against US forces in the region
  • Ghaani promised to “continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and said the goal was to drive US forces out of the region

DUBAI: The US special representative for Iran said the successor to Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike, would suffer the same fate if he followed a similar path of killing Americans, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

Washington blamed Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against US forces in the region. US President Donald Trump ordered the Jan. 3 drone strike in Iraq after a build up of tension over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran responded to the killing of Soleimani, who was charged with expanding Tehran’s influence across the Middle East, by launching missile strikes on US targets in Iraq, although no US soldiers were killed.

After Soleimani’s death, Tehran swiftly appointed Esmail Ghaani as the new head of the Quds Force, an elite unit in the Revolutionary Guards that handles actions abroad. The new commander pledged to pursue Soleimani’s course.

“If (Esmail) Ghaani follows the same path of killing Americans then he will meet the same fate,” Brian Hook told the Arabic-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said in the interview in Davos that US President Donald Trump had long made it clear “that any attack on Americans or American interests would be met with a decisive response.”

“This isn’t a new threat. The president has always said that he will always respond decisively to protect American interests,” Hook said. “I think the Iranian regime understands now that they cannot attack America and get away with it.”

After his appointment, Ghaani promised to “continue in this luminous path” taken by Soleimani and said the goal was to drive US forces out of the region, which has long been Iran’s stated policy.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have steadily increased since Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and imposed tough news sanctions that have hammered the Iranian economy.

This month’s military flare-up began in December when rockets fired at US bases in Iraq killed a US contractor. Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters. After the militia surrounded the US embassy in Baghdad for two days, Trump ordered the drone strike on Soleimani.