Iraqi Military Says 2 Rockets Hit Baghdad's Green Zone

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Iraqi security forces removed concrete walls in preparation to re-open Sinak Bridge, leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone which houses the seat of the country's government and foreign embassies
Sinak Bridge, leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone which houses the seat of the country's government and foreign embassies, Feb. 12, 2020Credit: AP Photo/Hadi Mizban

Iraq's military on Thursday said at least two rockets hit inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government and home to the American Embassy, in the first attack following a brief lull in violence from earlier this month.

Iraqi officials also said the U.S. renewed a sanctions waiver enabling Iraq to import crucial Iranian gas and electricity, but with a shorter deadline.

The two projectiles struck near the Baghdad Operations Command, which coordinates Iraq's police and military forces, the military statement said. The command center is a few hundred meters (yards) away from the U.S. Embassy, which is a regular target of rocket attacks.

There were no casualties, said an Iraqi security official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The attack occurred as a state-imposed curfew to contain the spread of the new coronavirus was extended for a second time effective until April 11, according to a cabinet statement. The effective lockdown has prohibited large public gatherings and shuttered all but essential businesses such as pharmacies and supermarkets.

The statement said the rockets were launched from the al-Nahda area of Baghdad.

It was the latest rocket attack to strike the Green Zone since three rockets hit an area near the embassy last Tuesday. That attack was the fourth to target U.S. interests in Iraq in the span of a week following assaults on the Basmaya training camp and two separate attacks on Camp Taji. Both bases are near the Iraqi capital.

The first attack on Camp Taji killed three coalition servicemen including two Americans. That prompted U.S. airstrikes against what U.S. officials said were mainly weapons facilities belonging to Kataib Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Iraqi militia group believed to be responsible for the attack.

However, Iraq’s military said those airstrikes killed five security force members and a civilian, while wounding five fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella organization including an array of Iraqi militias, including some Iran-backed groups.

Iran-backed Iraqi militias have vowed revenge for the attacks.

Meanwhile, two Iraqi officials said the U.S. will keep letting Iraq import gas an power from neighboring Iran without facing American sanctions. But the officials said Washington has reduced the deadline by which Iraq would need to prove it is making headway in becoming energy independent.

There was no immediate confirmation from U.S. officials.

The last waiver was granted Feb. 13 for a period of 45 days. Officials said they received word Thursday from U.S. officials that the next waiver would expire in 30 days. The U.S. has applied stringent sanctions on Iran that punish any country trading with it. The U.S. waiver enables Iraq to avoid penalties while paying Iran billions of dollars for energy imports.

The issuance of the last waiver came amid fraught U.S.-Iraq ties following an American drone strike that killed the top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, near Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.

Iraq remains highly dependent on Iranian natural gas to meet electricity demands, especially during the scorching summer months when imports account for a third of consumption. Late payments by Baghdad for Iranian power and gas have resulted in interruptions in recent years. In the summer of 2018, these interruptions were a factor that led to destabilizing protests in the southern oil-rich province of Basra.

The attacks on the Green Zone came as the U.S.-led coalition has announced plans to draw down its presence from bases across Iraq and consolidate in Baghdad and Ain al-Asad in western Iraq. The plan was in the works since late last year, a senior coalition military official said last week, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Troops have already pulled out from al-Qaim, on the border with Syria.

France said late Wednesday that it will pull out all of its military forces from Iraq, citing the need for French forces to help fight the new coronavirus at home.