One dead in rocket attack on Iraq base hosting U.S. troops


At least 10 rockets targeted a military base in western Iraq that hosts US -led coalition troops on Wednesday, according to a USA defense official.

It was not immediately known if there were any casualties in a strike that comes just 48-hours before Pope Francis's historic visit to the country.

Saberin Telegram channel reported that an American officer and two soldiers were killed when rockets hit the U.S. military base in Ain al-Asad.

Dozens of rocket attacks and roadside bombs targeted Western security, military and diplomatic sites in Iraq in 2020, with Iraqi and Western military sources blaming hardline pro-Iran factions.

It was the first attack since the USA hit Iran-aligned militia targets in Syria, along the border with Iraq, last week.

The airstrike was a "proportionate military response" to a rocket attack on an airfield in the Kurdish region's capital of Irbil that killed a contractor from the Philippines and wounded several others, including a USA service member and four American contractors.

It also came after President Joe Biden ordered a USA airstrike in Syria, in response to a series of rocket attacks on American and coalition troops in Iraq.

The much-anticipated trip will include stops in Baghdad, southern Iraq and the northern city of Irbil.

Iraqi security forces said 10 "Grad-type rockets" hit the sprawling base on Wednesday morning, but said there were "no notable casualties".

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Wednesday's rocket attack targeted the same base that Iran struck with a barrage of missiles in January past year in retaliation for the killing of Suleimani.

The Pentagon says a USA contractor died when at least 10 rockets slammed into an air base housing US and other coalition troops in western Iraq.

Ain al-Asad hosts both Iraqi forces and US-led coalition troops helping fight the Islamic State group, as well as the unmanned drones the coalition uses to surveil jihadist sleeper cells.

The US responded on February 26 with a US air strike on Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary force stationed along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

United States officials said the group was merely a front for one of the main Shia militias, and the retaliatory strikes on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq targeted buildings believed to belong to several of them, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.

Despite the recent escalation, Pope Francis is determined to go ahead on Friday with the first-ever papal visit to the country.

Analysts have pointed to both domestic and global reasons for the rise in tensions.

They may also carry a message from Tehran to Washington, which under US President Joe Biden is offering to revive the Iran nuclear deal which his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.

Iraq has also been gripped by a second wave of the coronavirus, reporting a record 5,173 new cases on Wednesday.