A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, in Erbil, Iraq
FILE - A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, in Erbil, Iraq, Oct. 21, 2019.

CAIRO, EGYPT - Rockets struck an Iraqi base used by U.S. and coalition forces near the airport in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil late Wednesday, hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told foreign diplomats that the country would put a stop to such attacks. Iraq's foreign minister also said that reported U.S. warnings that Washington may close its embassy in Baghdad would be a mistake.

Amateur video showed a string of fires burning in an empty field not far from a U.S.-led coalition base near Erbil Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdish security officials accused Shi'ite militias of firing the rockets used in the overnight attack.

Shi'ite Hushd militia forces denied responsibility. However, Iraqi state media reported that intelligence officials had arrived at the Shi'ite Hushd militia's 33rd Brigade outside of Mosul to determine if they fired the rockets used in the attack.

Kurdish media indicated that security investigators had recovered and were examining the rockets.

The attack came a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told diplomats from 25 countries that his government would protect their facilities from militia attacks.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, Aug. 17, 2020.

He said that the (recent attacks) are meant to embarrass the government and prevent it from maintaining order against unruly militias, as well as to isolate Iraq from the international community by pushing embassies and international organizations to leave the country. This, he said, would allow the militias to usurp power. But he vowed to protect foreign targets from militia attack.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein told journalists Wednesday that U.S. warnings that Washington may evacuate its embassy in Baghdad were what he called a "mistake" and come at a bad time. Iraqi media warned that Shi'ite militias may try to storm the Green Zone in central Baghdad, where the U.S. Embassy compound is located, as they did in October 2019.

Protesters gathered in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square on Thursday to mark the first anniversary of large-scale demonstrations against the pro-Iranian militias.

Demonstrators hold national flags as they head toward Tahrir Square for anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Oct, 1, 2020.

Paul Sullivan, who is a professor at the U.S. National Defense University, says "Iraq is far from settled down," and that "Iran, which has significant influence in Iraq, is still looking for revenge” for the death of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, a top Iranian military commander, killed by a U.S. drone strike last January.

"Iran," he points out, "has proxy groups in Iraq that it can exploit for its revenge,” and says that Westerners are often caught off guard because that revenge does not necessarily come quickly.

Iraqi analyst Bassem Hussein told Arab media that "Iran is sending a message to Iraqi Prime Minister Kadhimi that he cannot protect foreign embassies or security targets without (Tehran's) help and is also warning foreign governments that their embassies can be hit in Kurdistan, as well, if they move there from Baghdad."

Iraqi Shi'ite militia commander Hadi al-Ameri warned recently that his forces are planning to storm the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad. Other pro-Iranian Shi'ite leaders have threatened to take hostages at the embassy, an operation that would be similar to the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.

 

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