Rocket attack hits near US Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone

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A rocket was fired into the Iraqi capital’s heavily
fortified Green Zone Sunday night, landing less than a mile from the sprawling
US Embassy, an Iraqi military spokesman said.

The apparent attack, which Iraq’s state-run news agency said
did not cause any casualties, came amid heightened tensions across the Persian
Gulf, after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier
this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. The US also has
ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq.

It was the first such attack since September, when three
mortar shells landed in an abandoned lot inside the Green Zone.

There was no immediate comment from the State Department or
the US Embassy in Iraq on Sunday’s attack.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack that took place
after sunset when many Baghdad residents were indoors breaking their fast
during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Associated Press reporters on the east side of the Tigris
River, opposite the Green Zone, heard an explosion, after which alert sirens
sounded briefly in Baghdad.

Iraqi military spokesman Brig Gen Yahya Rasoul told The
Associated Press that a Katyusha rocket fell near the statue of the Unknown
Soldier, less than a mile from the US Embassy. He said the military is
investigating the cause but that the rocket was believed to have been fired
from east Baghdad. The area is home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.

Shortly afterward the rocket launcher was discovered by
security forces in the eastern neighbourhood of Wihda, according to a security
official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to
speak to the media. The official also said the roads leading to the Green Zone
were closed briefly for security reasons before they were reopened as normal.

Iraq’s state-run news agency said a Katyusha rocket crashed
inside the Green Zone without causing any casualties.

As tensions escalate between the US and Iran, there have
been concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle , just as
it is on the path to recovery. The country hosts more than 5,000 US troops, and
is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those US forces
to leave.

American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in
2014 at the invitation of Iraq to help battle the Islamic State group after it
seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq’s
second-largest city, Mosul.

A US-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi
forces regrouped and drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign.
Iranian-backed militias fought alongside US-backed Iraqi troops against IS,
gaining outsized influence and power.

Now, amid an escalating conflict between the US and Iran,
Iraq is once again vulnerable to becoming caught up in the power play. An
attack targeting US interests in Iraq would be detrimental to the country’s
recent efforts at recovering and reclaiming its status in the Arab world.

On May 8, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a
previously unannounced trip to the Iraqi capital following the abrupt
cancellation of a visit to Germany, and told Iraqi intelligence that the United
States had been picking up intelligence that Iran is threatening American
interests in the Middle East, although he offered no details according to two
Iraqi officials.

A few days later, as US-Iranian tensions continued to rise,
the State Department ordered all non-essential, non-emergency government staff
to leave the country.

Employees of energy giant ExxonMobil have also begun
evacuating from an oil field in the southern Iraqi province of Basra.

-GK Editor

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