US troops clear rubble from Iraq base days after Iran strike

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A bulldozer clears rubble and debris at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (AP)
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Bulldozers clear rubble and debris at Ain Al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 13 January 2020

US troops clear rubble from Iraq base days after Iran strike

  • The Ain Al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province is a sprawling complex about 180 kilometers west of Baghdad
  • Ain Al-Asad air base was first used by American forces after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein

AIN AL-ASAD BASE, Iraq: US troops were clearing rubble and debris on Monday from a military base housing American soldiers in western Iraq, days after it was struck by Iranian ballistic missiles.
The Ain Al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province is a sprawling complex about 180 kilometers west of Baghdad and houses about 1,500 members of the US military and the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group.
It was struck by a barrage of Iranian missiles on Wednesday, in retaliation for the US drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose killing raised fears of a wider war in the Middle East.
An Associated Press crew touring the Ain Al-Asad base Monday saw large craters in the ground and damaged military trailers as well as forklifts lifting rubble and loading it onto trucks from a large area the size of a football stadium.
The US said no American soldiers were killed or wounded in the Iranian attack.
Ain Al-Asad air base was first used by American forces after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight against the Daesh group in Iraq and Syria.
Trump visited the sprawling Ain Al-Asad air base in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice President Mike Pence also has visited the base.


‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

A mask-clad young Iraqi woman speaks to another during an anti-government demonstration in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, despite the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2020

‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

  • Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say

BAGHDAD: Seventeen years after US troops invaded their country and eight months since protests engulfed their cities, Iraqis are sending solidarity, warnings and advice to demonstrators across America.
Whether in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square or on Twitter, Iraqis are closely watching the unprecedented street protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck.
“I think what the Americans are doing is brave and they should be angry, but rioting is not the solution,” said Yassin Alaa, a scrawny 20-year-old camped out in Tahrir.
Only a few dozen Iraqis remain in tents in the capital’s main protest square, which just months ago saw security forces fire tear gas and live bullets at demonstrators, who shot back with rocks or occasionally Molotov cocktails.
Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say. Now, they want to share their lessons learned.
“Don’t set anything on fire. Stay away from that, because the police will treat you with force right from the beginning and might react unpredictably,” Alaa told AFP.
And most importantly, he insisted, stick together. “If blacks and whites were united and they threw racism away, the system can never stop them,” he said.
Across their country, Iraqis spotted parallels between the roots of America’s protests and their own society.
“In the US it’s a race war, while here it’s a war of politics and religion,” said Haider Kareem, 31, who protested often in Tahrir and whose family lives in the US.
“But the one thing we have in common is the injustice we both suffer from,” he told AFP.
Iraq has its own history of racism, particularly against a minority of Afro-Iraqis in the south who trace their roots back to East Africa.
In 2013, leading Afro-Iraqi figure Jalal Thiyab was gunned down in the oil-rich city of Basra — but discrimination against the community is otherwise mostly nonviolent.
“Our racism is different than America’s racism,” said Ali Essam, a 34-year-old Afro-Iraqi who directed a wildly popular play about Iraq’s protests last year.
“Here, we joke about dark skin but in America, being dark makes people think you’re a threat,” he told AFP.
Solidarity is spreading online, too, with Iraqis tweaking their own protest chants and slogans to fit the US.
In one video, an elderly Iraqi is seen reciting a “hosa” or rhythmic chant, used to rally people into the streets last year and now adapted to an American context.
“This is a vow, this a vow! Texas won’t be quiet now,” he bellowed, before advising Americans to keep their rallies independent of foreign interference — mimicking a US government warning to Iraqis last year. Others shared the hashtag “America Revolts.”
Another Arabic hashtag going viral in Iraq translates as “We want to breathe, too,” referring to Floyd’s last words.
Not all the comparisons have been uplifting, however.
The governor of Minnesota, the state in which Minneapolis is located, said the US street violence “was reminiscent of Mogadishu or Baghdad.”
And the troops briefly deployed by US President Donald Trump to quell unrest in Washington were from the 82nd Airborne — which had just returned from duty in Iraq.
“Trump is using the American army against the American people,” said Democrat presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.
Iraqis have fought back online, tweeting “Stop associating Baghdad with turmoil,” in response to comparisons with their homeland.
Others have used biting sarcasm.
In response to videos of crowds breaking into shops across US cities, Iraqis have dug up an infamous quote by ex-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“Lawlessness and looting is a natural consequence of the transition from dictatorship to a free country,” he said in response to a journalist’s question on widespread looting and chaos in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion.