The latest spate of rocket strikes in the past five weeks on military installations hosting members of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has raised tension between Iran and the U.S. Two rockets were fired at a military base near Baghdad airport housing U.S. troops, the 10th such attack since late October, the Iraqi army said on Thursday. There were no casualties in the overnight attack, which followed one on the same base on Monday that wounded six members of Iraq's elite U.S.-trained counterterrorism force, two of them critically, the army said.
There have been no claims of responsibility for any of the attacks. However, the U.S. military official said intelligence and forensic analyses of the rockets and launchers pointed to Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militia groups, notably Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH). Iraqi paramilitary groups have in turn accused the U.S. and Israel of bombing their weapons depots and bases.
Washington has expressed mounting concern about the flurry of attacks on U.S. bases and diplomatic missions, several of which it has blamed on Shiite militia groups trained by its foe and rival for influence in Tehran. A senior U.S. military official said Wednesday attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were gathering pace and becoming more sophisticated, pushing all sides closer to uncontrollable escalation. Security sources linked at least one attack last week to Kata'ib Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite faction close to Tehran and blacklisted by Washington.
The tension between the U.S. and Iran has ramped up in the region over U.S. economic sanctions that are hitting Tehran hard. The two sides have traded blame over attacks on oil installations, militia arms depots and military bases hosting U.S. forces. Baghdad, which is close to both countries and whose many security forces have been trained by either the U.S. or Iran, is worried about being caught in the middle. U.S. officials say they are considering plans to deploy between 5,000 and 7,000 additional troops to the region to counter Iran.
Iran holds vast sway in Iraq, especially among the more hardline elements of the Hashd al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force largely made up of Shiite militias. Most of Iraq’s Shiite militia groups are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella that has allies in Parliament and government. They report to the prime minister but have their own command structure outside the military.