Iraq fears escalation after deadly rocket attack, air strike | Daily News


Iraq fears escalation after deadly rocket attack, air strike

Iraqi and United Nations officials scrambled Thursday to contain the fallout from an unprecedented rocket attack that killed three US-led coalition members and threatened yet another escalation of Iran-US tensions.

Within hours of the attack on Taji air base, north of Baghdad -- the deadliest in years on a base used by US forces in Iraq -- an air strike killed more than two dozen Iran-aligned fighters in neighbouring Syria.

It marked a dramatic uptick in violence less than three months after rockets killed a US contractor in northern Iraq, unleashing a round of tit-for-tat attacks between Washington and Tehran on Iraqi soil.

Fearing an even bloodier flare-up this time, Iraqi officials and the United Nations were quick to condemn the coalition deaths.

Iraq's military command said it was “a serious security challenge” and pledged to open an investigation.

President Barham Saleh and parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbussi condemned a “terrorist attack” which targeted “Iraq and its security”.

The UN mission in Iraq called for “maximum restraint on all sides”.

“These ongoing attacks are a clear and substantial threat to the country, and the risk of rogue action by armed groups remains a constant concern,” it said.

“The last thing Iraq needs is to serve as an arena for vendettas and external battles.”

Wednesday's attack was the 22nd on US interests in Iraq since late October.

It saw a volley of 18 rockets slam into the Taji base, one of about a dozen facilities across Iraq where coalition forces are posted.

The coalition confirmed three of its personnel were killed and around a dozen more wounded.

One of the dead was a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Britain confirmed. A US military official told AFP the other two were a US soldier and an American contractor. There was no immediate word on Iraqi casualties and no group claimed responsibility. Kataeb Hezbollah, a hardline faction within Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance, hailed the attack and its perpetrators, without saying they were behind it.

“We believe it is the best time for popular, nationalist forces to resume operations to oust the evil attackers,” the group said in a statement.

Kataeb Hezbollah also criticised “those who were quick to denounce and express their sympathy”, in a hint at top Iraqi officials who had condemned the rocket attack.

In late December, the US accused Kataeb Hezbollah of killing an American contractor at a base in northern Iraq and carried out air strikes on western Iraq that killed 25 of its fighters. - AFP

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