US contractor dead after rockets hit Iraq base hosting coalition

US contractor dead after rockets hit Iraq base hosting coalition
A view inside Al-Asad military airbase housing US and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 March 2021

US contractor dead after rockets hit Iraq base hosting coalition

US contractor dead after rockets hit Iraq base hosting coalition
  • Comes just two days before the first-ever papal visit to the country

BAGHDAD: A US contractor died of cardiac failure after rocket fire hit an Iraqi base hosting coalition troops Wednesday, the Pentagon said, just two days ahead of Pope Francis' visit to the country.
Around 10 rockets slammed into the sprawling Ain Al-Assad military base in Iraq's western desert after several weeks of escalating US-Iran tensions on Iraqi soil.
"A US civilian contractor suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering and sadly passed away shortly after," the US Defense Department said, noting there were no current reports of injuries among US service personnel.
Francis was quick to say he would go ahead with the first-ever papal visit to the war-scarred country so as not to "disappoint" the Iraqi people.
"The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage," the 84-year-old pontiff said in his Wednesday address. "For a long time I have wanted to meet these people who have suffered so much."
Ain Al-Assad hosts Iraqi forces and US-led coalition troops helping fight Daesh. It is also a base for drones the coalition uses to surveil extremist sleeper cells.
The base's missile system was "engaged in defense of our forces," said the Pentagon, noting Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had been briefed and was closely monitoring the situation.
Iraqi security forces were on the scene and investigating, but it was too early to attribute responsibility, it added.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Wayne Marotto said 10 rockets hit the base at 7:20 am (0420 GMT) and Iraqi security forces said they had found the platform from which 10 "Grad-type rockets" were fired.
Western security sources told AFP the rockets were Iranian-made Arash models, which are 122mm artillery rockets and heavier than those seen in similar attacks.
The Iranian Tasnim news agency reported last year that the country's Revolutionary Guards had developed the Arash because it was more precise than other models.

The US contractor's death marked the third fatality in rocket strikes in recent weeks, after an attack targeting US-led troops in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil left two people dead.
Days later, more rockets hit a US military contracting company working north of the capital and the US embassy in Baghdad, but only injuries were reported.
In response, the US carried out an air strike on February 26 against Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary force stationed along the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Washington said it struck on the Syrian side of the border but Kataeb claimed one of its fighters killed in the bombardment was protecting "Iraqi territory".
Iraqi and Western officials have blamed hardline pro-Iran factions for the spate of rocket attacks, including some said to have established front groups to defect blame.
Analysts have pointed to both domestic and international reasons for the rise in tensions.
Hardline Iraqi groups have an interest in ramping up pressure on Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi following his pledges to rein in rogue militias.
Kadhemi tweeted after Wednesday's attack that "any party that thinks it is above the state or can impose its agenda on Iraq and the future of its people is delusional".
Observers also say the rockets may be Tehran's way of pressuring Washington, which under President Joe Biden is offering to revive the Iran nuclear deal abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump in 2018.
Iran is demanding the US lift sanctions immediately, while the US wants Iran to move first by returning to previous nuclear commitments.
Tensions between the two arch-rivals peaked in January 2020 after a US drone strike at Baghdad airport killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and top Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
In response, Iran launched ballistic missiles on Ain al-Assad and Arbil, wounding dozens.
Over the next 10 months, dozens of rockets and roadside bombs targeted Western security, military and diplomatic sites across Iraq - some of them deadly.
Last year's attacks came to a near-complete halt in October following a truce with the hardliners, but they have resumed at a quickening pace over the past three weeks.

Despite the attack, and the Covid-19 pandemic, Francis said he would go ahead with his visit, during which he is to meet top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
"The Iraqi people are waiting for us, they were waiting for Saint John Paul II, who was forbidden to go," he said.
"One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this journey will be successful."
While he is not scheduled to visit western Iraq, Francis will spend time in Baghdad and Arbil, both of which were hit by rocket attacks last month.
To control the crowds during the pope's visit, Iraq is set to extend weekend lockdowns to cover the entire papal visit from March 5-8.


Deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force dies from ‘heart condition’

Deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force dies from ‘heart condition’
Updated 36 min 50 sec ago

Deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force dies from ‘heart condition’

Deputy commander of Iran’s Quds Force dies from ‘heart condition’

RIYADH: The deputy commander of Iran’s military wing that oversees its foreign proxy militias has died from a “heart condition.”
Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hejazi’s death was announced by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iranian media reported. No further details were given about his death.
He was a senior figure in the Quds Force, the overseas arm of the IRGC, whose overall commander Qassem Soleimani was killed by a US airstrike in January 2020.
The statement said Hejazi, who was 65, was involved in operations in Lebanon where Iran supplies and funds Hezbollah.
The Quds force is considered a terrorist organization by the US, Europe and many countries in the Middle East.


Abducted Yemeni model in Houthi prison threatens hunger strike

Abducted Yemeni model in Houthi prison threatens hunger strike
Entesar Al-Hammadi. (Social media)
Updated 29 min 47 sec ago

Abducted Yemeni model in Houthi prison threatens hunger strike

Abducted Yemeni model in Houthi prison threatens hunger strike
  • The organizations said that the Houthis are still holding hundreds of people inside small, insanitary and overcrowded cells in the military prison in Sanaa

AL-MUKALLA: Abducted Yemeni model Entesar Al-Hammadi has threatened to launch a hunger strike as the Houthis refuse to release her or allow local prosecutors to question her, the model's lawyer told Arab News on Sunday.

Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal said that the Houthi-controlled Central Prison, where the model has been held since Feb. 20, has rejected a request to transfer the model to the court for investigation.

“My client has threatened to go on hunger strike if she is not released. She has also complained about [verbal] abuses by her [female] captors,” Al-Kamal said, adding that the Central Prison officials gave no convincing reasons for not transferring the model to the court.

“The prison has rejected three demands to transfer my client to the court. I believe that they refused to release her due to the huge media coverage of the case,” the lawyer said.

The 20-year-old model and actress was on her way to a film set when a Houthi checkpoint stopped her vehicle and abducted her and two friends.

“There are no clear charges brought against my client,” he said.

The abduction has triggered outrage on social media as activists renewed demands for designating the Houthis a terrorist organization for their crimes against Yemenis.

The Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, strongly condemned the abduction, saying that the Houthis prevented the model’s relatives and lawyer from visiting her.

In a statement, the organization demanded the international community and right groups to pressure the Houthis to stop abusing women and release all abductees.

“The Houthi group is fully responsible for the lives of Entesar and all kidnapped women in its prisons,” the organization said.

Several prisoners have launched a hunger strike in Houthi-held Sanaa to force the Houthis to release them, complaining about prison treatment and the refusal of their captors to set them free, two right groups said.

SAM, the organization for rights and liberties, and the Mothers of Abductees Association said in a joint statement on Saturday that several prisoners who were abducted by the Houthis in 2015, were transferred from the military prison to an unknown location after they launched a hunger strike, and they cautioned that their captors might torture them to force them to end their strike.

The organizations said that the Houthis are still holding hundreds of people inside small, insanitary and overcrowded cells in the military prison in Sanaa.

In March, hundreds of African migrants were killed or wounded when the Houthis caused a fire inside their overcrowded detention center in Sanaa in aa attempt to suppress a riot.

The rebels later used force to disperse a protest by survivors of the fire who demanded justice and compensation, and then deported them to government-controlled areas in southern Yemen.


Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province

Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province
Updated 18 April 2021

Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province

Iran hit by 5.9-magnitude quake in nuclear plant province

TEHRAN: A 5.9-magnitude earthquake Sunday hit Iran's southwestern Bushehr province, which houses a nuclear power plant, injuring five people but causing no major damage, state media said.
The 10-kilometre (six mile) deep quake hit 27 kilometres northwest of the port city of Genaveh at 11:11 am local time (0641 GMT) and was felt in nearby provinces, Iran's seismological agency said.
State news agency IRNA reported that the quake and several aftershocks caused power blackouts and cut phone lines nearby but caused "no damage" at the Bushehr nuclear complex about 100 kilometres away.
"The minor damage to Genaveh's water, electricity, telecommunication and gas infrastructure has been repaired," the head of the province's crisis management told IRNA.
Iran sits astride the boundaries of several major tectonic plates and experiences frequent seismic activity.
In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake in southeastern Iran levelled the ancient mud-brick city of Bam and killed at least 31,000 people.
Iran's deadliest quake was a 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1990 that killed 40,000 people in the north, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless.


Rockets hit Iraqi air base, 2 security forces wounded

Rockets hit Iraqi air base, 2 security forces wounded
Updated 18 April 2021

Rockets hit Iraqi air base, 2 security forces wounded

Rockets hit Iraqi air base, 2 security forces wounded
  • Two crashed into a dormitory and a canteen of US company Sallyport
  • There have been around 20 attacks against US interests since Biden took office

BAGHDAD: Multiple rockets hit an Iraqi air base just north of the capital Baghdad Sunday, wounding two Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi military commander said.
In comments to Iraq’s official news agency, Maj. Gen. Diaa Mohsen, commander of the Balad air base, said at least two rockets exploded inside the base, which houses US trainers. The attack comes days after an explosives-laden drone targeted US-led coalition forces near a northern Iraq airport, causing a large fire and damage to a building.
Mohsen said the attack resulted in the injury of two security forces, one of them in serious condition and the other only slightly. There was no material damage inside the base from the attack, he added.
The incident was the latest in a string of attacks that have targeted mostly American installations in Iraq in recent weeks. There was no immediate responsibility claim, but US officials have previously blamed Iran-backed Iraqi militia factions for such attacks.
American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of Iraq to help battle Daesh after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country. In late 2020, US troop levels in Iraq were reduced to 2,500 after withdrawals based on orders from the Trump administration.
Calls grew for further US troop withdrawals after a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad in January 2020.
Last month, a base in western Iraq housing US-led coalition troops and contractors was hit by 10 rockets. One contractor was killed.


Eleven dead, 98 injured after train derails in Egypt

Eleven dead, 98 injured after train derails in Egypt
Updated 18 April 2021

Eleven dead, 98 injured after train derails in Egypt

Eleven dead, 98 injured after train derails in Egypt
  • 58 ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to three hospitals in the province

CAIRO: A train derailed in Egypt's Qalioubia province north of Cairo leaving eleven dead and 98 injured, the health ministry said in a statement.
58 ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to three hospitals in the province, it said.

 

Egypt’s health minister Hala Zayed visited the injured in hospital after the incident and 14 wounded people have been discharged from hospital. 
The train departed Cairo at 1:20 P.M. and was due to arrive in Mansoura at 5:00 P.M. 
At least 20 people were killed and nearly 200 were injured in March when two trains collided near Tahta in Sohag province.