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Pics: Rockets strike Iraqi base hosting US contractors

Airmen with the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base Balad, Feb. 19, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Michael Holzworth)
March 15, 2021

On Monday, several rockets struck an Iraqi military base that hosts U.S. civilian contractors.

The official Twitter account for the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Security Media Cell tweeted, “Two rockets fell outside the Balad air base without significant losses, and it was found that their launch was from the Saadiyat al-Shat area, boycotting Diyala operations.”

The same Iraqi Security account tweeted photos showing damage to a citizen’s house outside the base.

Officials for Operation Inherent Resolve said Balad Air Base is an Iraqi base and referred questions about the attack to the Iraqi Security Media Cell.

U.S. troops were present at Balad Air Base as recently as December 2019, when a previous rocket attack targeted the base, according to Reuters. U.S. contractors, such as Sallyport Global, were still at the base as of late-February 2021, and at least one DOD contract said Lockheed Martin would be performing F-16 work on the base for the Iraqi government until December 2022.

Another Twitter user tweeted, “Seven Katyusha rockets land in an airbase housing US personnel in Iraq. This provocation by the IRGC controlled militias will continue as long as the Ayatollahs in Tehran sense weakness in the WH.”

NBC News analyst Evan Kohlmann tweeted, “There are unconfirmed reports of a new Katyusha rocket attack on Balad Air Base north of Baghdad, where U.S. contractors supporting the Iraqi government are based.”

Kohlmann added, “Images: Iraqi Shiite insurgent source ‘Sabereen News’ has issued an update, specifying that the rockets used in the alleged attack on Balad Air Base were 122mm Grad type (not Katyushas).”

The reports of an attack come after a number of similar incidents in Iraq in recent weeks. In mid-February, rockets targeting U.S. and coalition forces in Erbil, Iraq resulted in the death of a civilian contractor, along with injury to five more civilian contractors and a U.S. service member.

The Iran-backed Iraqi Kataeb Hezbollah militia was suspected in the initial rocket attack and, in the first military strike of his presidency, President Joe Biden ordered strikes along the Syria-Iraqi border, targeting pro-Iranian Shia militia forces.

Days after Biden’s strikes, another rocket attack targeted Al Asad Airbase, another base hosting U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. A U.S. contractor died of a cardiac incident while sheltering from the attack.

The Kataeb Hezbollah was again suspected in the most recent attack, but Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, “We cannot attribute responsibility at this time, and we do not have a complete picture of the extent of the damage.”

It is unclear if Monday’s rocket attack is also connected to the two most recent rocket attacks Iraq.

Pro-Iranian militia forces in Iraq have been suspected of carrying on proxy attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq in recent years.

In response to a December 2019 rocket attack, the U.S. launched airstrikes that targeted Kataeb Hezbollah locations. The Kataeb Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militias responded by attempting to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Days later, then-President Donald Trump ordered the airstrike that killed Iranian Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) leader commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed alongside Soleimani.