Rockets have been fired at two Iraqi air bases this week where American military forces are stationed, a US official said.
The attacks, on the Al Asad base on Tuesday and Balad on Thursday were believed to be the work of militants with ties to Iran, according to the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Seven rockets struck the perimeter of the Al Asad base, and five projectiles landed inside Balad. At Al Asad, the Iraqi army later found a truck rigged to fire rockets with seven empty tubes and eight unfired projectiles.
No personnel were injured in any of the attacks, nor was there significant damage to facilities, the official said. Still, there were several particularly troubling aspects of these attacks such as that they followed eight rocket attacks on or in the vicinity of other Iraqi facilities that host US troops in the last five weeks, the official said.
The previously undisclosed attacks occurred during a week when Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, signaled increased concerns about Iranian aggression to the media and Congress.
Multiple credible sources indicate the Al Asad attack was likely conducted by an Iran-aligned Shia militia group. The attack featured the use of longer-range 122mm rockets launched from sophisticated, improvised rail systems, the official said. Previous attacks used shorter-range and less powerful rockets than the 122mm model, the official said.
The weapons in question are unguided rockets and the most recent indication that Iran in the last few weeks has been covertly sending munitions into Iraq. Al Asad is located west of Baghdad in Anbar province. Balad air base is 40 miles north of Baghdad, and the attack there remains under investigation.
Iraq has been shaken in recent weeks by widespread protests against the government that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. More than 400 people have died in clashes between security forces and protesters since October 1, according to Iraq’s independent High Human Rights Commission. Iraqis, mostly from the Shiite majority population, are protesting against corruption, poor services, and wide-ranging Iranian political influence.
A new Defense Intelligence Agency report referred to Iran’s Shia-backed militia as “one of Tehran’s strongest levers of influence in Iraq.” Iran has provided financial backing for some of these groups for decades, including the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hizballah.