A rocket attack by pro-Iranian militia appeared to target the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad's Green Zone overnight. The attack has ratcheted up tensions between the U.S. and Iraq, just as the two countries announced the withdrawal of 500 more U.S. soldiers from Iraq.
Iraqi media reported that seven Katyousha rockets were fired at Baghdad's fortified Green Zone and that they were apparently aimed at the U.S. Embassy compound.
No U.S. casualties were reported, but Iraqi military officials say one child was killed and five civilians wounded by several stray projectiles.
A pro-Iranian militia group says it fired the rockets at the embassy in retaliation for what it alleged was the U.S. arrest of three of its members in the city of Falluja, west of Baghdad. VOA could not independently confirm the claim.
A spokesman for the main pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah militia denied responsibility for the attack, saying in a tweet that his group was observing a "unilateral truce to allow a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq."
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustapha Kadhimi told journalists Wednesday that the U.S. will be pulling 500 of its forces from Iraq within a short period of time.
He said that during his recent visit to Washington U.S. President Donald Trump said he would withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq within the year and that both sides had agreed on a pullout time-table.
Providing additional detail, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein said that after consultations between Kadhimi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo two days ago, they agreed to also bring down the total number of non-combat U.S. military forces in Iraq to 2,500.
Egyptian analyst Ra'ed Azzawi told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV that the rocket attack overnight was an attempt by pro-Iranian militia forces to embarrass Kadhimi and to demonstrate their capability to hit American targets should the U.S. decide to attack Iran. He added that "Israeli planes also targeted pro-Iranian militia forces in Syria, shortly after the Baghdad attack."
The New York Times reported earlier this week that President Trump had considered attacking Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, but that his advisors had persuaded him not to do it.
Dr. Paul Sullivan, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University, told VOA that withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq is "perceived by Iran as a victory." He said, "It is a volatile and brittle part of the world and in the cultures of the region [such] a withdrawal can likely be seen as a retreat."
"The enemies of the U.S." he added, "will be thinking: if we just wait out the Americans, they will leave, and we can go back to what we were doing."