3 US troops wounded in renewed rocket attacks on Iraq’s Taji base

Iraq's Joint Operations Command said 33 Katyusha rockets were launched near a section of the Taji base which houses U.S.-led coalition troops

BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three American troops and several Iraqi forces were wounded on Saturday in the second major rocket attack in the past week on an Iraqi base north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said, raising the stakes in an escalating cycle of attacks and reprisals.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said 33 Katyusha rockets were launched near a section of the Taji base which houses U.S.-led coalition troops. It said the military found seven rocket launchers and 24 unused rockets in the nearby Abu Izam area.

The Iraqi military said several Iraqi air defense servicemen were critically wounded. One U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said three American troops were wounded but did not comment on the severity of their injuries.

The U.S.-led coalition said in a statement that there were three injuries but did not disclose the nationalities of those injured.

The rocket attacks came less than two days after the United States launched retaliatory air strikes at facilities in Iraq that the Pentagon linked to the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, which it blamed for Wednesday’s attack on Taji.

That retaliatory strikes were meant to deter militia from staging any more rocket attacks.

Not only did the retaliatory strikes appear to fail to stem more attacks on the U.S.-led coalition, Iraq protested the U.S. air strikes and said members of its security forces were among the dead.

The official Iraqi casualty figures showed three Iraqi soldiers, two policemen, one civilian and no militiamen were killed in the U.S. strikes, which Baghdad condemned as a violation of its sovereignty and targeted aggression against its regular armed forces.

The Iraqi military said on Saturday that neither the United States nor other foreign forces should use the latest attack as a pretext to take military action without Iraq’s approval, and should instead hasten to implement a parliamentary resolution expelling them.

Longstanding antagonism between the United States and Iran has mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.

Iranian-backed paramilitary groups have regularly rocketed and shelled bases in Iraq which host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The United States has in turn conducted several strikes inside Iraq, killing top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.

Many Iraqis say it is they who suffer most from U.S.-Iranian tensions and some, including caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, have called for U.S. troops to withdraw. Parliament voted to expel foreign troops in January.