The Baghdad Rocket Attack & The Growing Tension Between Iraq And The United States

On September 28, two rockets hit a house in Baghdad, Iraq, resulting in the death of two women and three children, with another two children injured. This is the first time in months that these attacks have resulted in civilian casualties. The attack was near Baghdad Airport, which includes a United States (U.S.) military base. This is one of many that were aimed at American presence and occupation in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister (PM) Mustafa al-Kadhimi stated that more efforts would be made “to limit these crimes that terrorise citizens” and assured that he would not let “these gangs [be allowed] to wander freely and tamper with security without receiving their just punishment.” 

Though no group has come forward to claim responsibility for these actions, they are speculated to be done by Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias outraged from the murder of Iranian general Qasen Soleimani and Iranian militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis by a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad Airport in January. Soon after the U.S. drone strike, Iran had fired missiles at two Iraqi military bases which hosted U.S. forces. This strike caused traumatic brain injuries in more than 100 U.S. troops. Around this time, the Iraqi government had approved a bill that implied that they would no longer request U.S. military aid but it was not implemented. 

In early September, the U.S. said that it would withdraw 2,200 troops from Iraq by the end of the month, leaving 3,000 inside the military bases. The purpose of the remaining soldiers would be to aid Iraq in apprehending those under the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group. Due to the frequency of the rocket strikes, the Trump Administration gave an ultimatum: have the groups responsible for the attack to be controlled or the United States’ diplomatic mission in Baghdad would end. 

In early June, Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service detained 14 members of Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), an Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group founded by Muhandis, suspected to have been responsible for the rocket strikes. These members were released after they were transferred to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) of which KH is a member and Muhandis directed as the deputy head prior to his death.

The death of the general Soleimani and Muhandis has complicated Iraq’s relationship with the U.S. and apprehending terrorist groups within the country. How PM Kadhimi follows on his promise to handle terrorism and prevent civilian casualties will be shown in his actions against the militia groups in the coming future.