Analysts warned that pro-Iranian militias are “playing with fire” by attacking U.S. interests in Iraq, and the recent escalation of tit-for-tat strikes may get out of control.
On Tuesday, two dozen rockets were launched at the Al Ain Assad base in western Anbar province, which is home to Iraqi and U.S. forces. There was a blatant attack on Tuesday that injured two soldiers.
The missile launcher used in the attack exploded near the base and damaged several buildings, including a mosque.
Hamza Mishaan was one of the civilians injured in the explosion. He questioned why civilians are now involved in the fighting.
“When the explosion occurred, I was looking out of the window and shrapnel hit my head. Why is this happening in our area? We are not part of this conflict,” Mishan told Al Jazeera.
General Tahsin al-Khafaji of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command acknowledged that the attacks have become more and more diverse.
“Terrorists have been using various methods to reach the base. This time the missile was hidden in a flour bag. We are now collecting evidence to determine the perpetrator,” he said.
After the recent pro-Iranian forces attacked U.S. interests in Iraq, the truck used turned into twisted metal and lay next to the mosque shattered by the explosion.
“The entire community was destroyed, houses were burned down, and windows were broken,” said resident Hamza Abdulrazzaq, his head wrapped in bandages. “The government should protect us. Why do we always have to pay the price?”
There have been previous attacks on the base in Anbar, the desert province of Iraq. The base is stationed with troops from the United States-led anti-armed organization ISIL. But this operation is bigger than the previous one.
Iraqi General Hamad Naims said that on Tuesday, a truck carrying flour launched a total of 24 rockets.
“This car has all the necessary authorizations to pass the checkpoint,” he told reporters at the scene of the attack on Thursday.
Fourteen of the projectiles hit the target, causing minor injuries to two personnel at the base.
‘Play with fire’
The Pentagon said on Thursday that it is deeply concerned about the series of attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria in recent days.
“They are using lethal weapons. I don’t know what else you can say except this is a serious threat,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
The Iraqi militia allied with Iran vowed to retaliate after the US airstrike on the Iraq-Syria border killed four members last month.
Iran denies support for attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, and condemns U.S. attacks on Iran-backed groups.
Iraq has long been an arena for fierce competition between the United States and Iran. Although they share a common hostility towards ISIL, in recent months, rocket and drone attacks on American targets have increased.
In the past few days, US interests in the west, the Kurdish region of northern Iraq in the north, and the US Embassy in Baghdad have been repeatedly attacked.
Some previously unknown groups have claimed to ask the “American occupiers” to leave, or promised to avenge the comrades killed in the American bombing.
But observers blame them on existing pro-Iranian factions, which operate under the umbrella of Iran. Hased Shabi A paramilitary alliance established to fight ISIL.
Hashd’s commanders have integrated into the national army and have become major political players. They often praise the attacks but never claim responsibility.
Hashd has promised revenge The death of its troops In the US air strikes on Iraq and Syria.
Analysts warned that even if the two sides do not want the conflict to escalate, the attack has turned into dangerous tit-for-tat violence.
A senior military official warned that Iraqi armed groups were “playing with fire.”
Loss of legitimacy?
“We can expect this cycle to continue,” said Marsin Alshamary, an Iraqi expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Since the beginning of this year, pro-Iranian forces have carried out dozens of attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq, mainly to demonstrate force.
Hamdi Malik, an Iraqi researcher at the Washington Institute, said the recent attacks by groups allied with Iran in Iraq and eastern Syria are a way to strengthen support.
Pro-Iranian groups were hit hard in January last year when the United States killed Iran’s respected commander Qasim Soleimani With his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi Mohandis.
“Don’t take action when more people are killed, [pro-Iran groups] At the risk of losing credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of their own base,” Malik said.
He said they were also cautious about “losing respect for other components of the’axis of resistance’ in other countries in the region”, referring to pro-Iranian forces in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
On the other hand, Washington “is trying to contain the influence and authority of these militias,” Al Shamari said.
Alshamary said that the Iraqi government has repeatedly condemned rocket and drone attacks, but has been unable to try any perpetrators.
Although the United States and Iran engaged in delicate negotiations aimed at resuming the 2015 Tehran nuclear activity agreement, such incidents continued to escalate in Iraq and Syria, but were blocked by the Trump administration in 2018.