Rocket hit near the US embassy in Baghdad

US
File AP

UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — A rocket fired at the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, home to government buildings and foreign embassies, fell on Sunday night and fell near the US embassy but caused no casualties, the Iraqi army said.

The attack came two weeks after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraqi leaders during an unannounced visit that Washington would respond strongly if they failed to keep the Iranian-backed factions, which are expanding their influence in Iraq and now part of its security apparatus, under control.

Pompeo’s visit came after US intelligence said Iranian-backed Shi’ite factions were firing missiles near bases containing US troops, according to two Iraqi security sources.

A US State Department official said no one had claimed responsibility for the attack so far and had not affected any US-run facility.

“But we take this incident very seriously.

“We will hold Iran responsible if the militia forces acting as its agent or elements of these forces launched any of these attacks and we will respond to Iran accordingly.”

The Iraqi army said in a statement that a Katyusha rocket landed in the heart of the Green Zone near the memorial of the unknown soldier.

The monument is about half a kilometer north of the vast US embassy compound.

Witnesses from Reuters and residents said they heard the sound of an explosion in central Baghdad.

Last week US authorities delayed non-essential staff from the US embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil.

Iraqi allies rushed to condemn the attack and stressed that a war between Tehran and Washington would harm Baghdad and the entire region.

The politician and leader of one of the factions, Hadi al-Amiri, whose bloc holds the second-largest number of seats in parliament, urged the Iraqis in a statement on Sunday to “not be a fire of this war” that “will burn everyone.”

Qais al-Khazali, another faction leader, echoed the same position and wrote on Twitter that the war would not be in the interest of Washington or Tehran.

– Iranian-American tension –

Tensions between Washington and its Gulf allies on the one hand and Tehran and its proxies in the region have been on the other for weeks.

US President Donald Trump threatened Iran in a tweet on Sunday that raised fears of a possible conflict between the two countries.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again.”

Trump stressed economic sanctions on Iran, and his administration said it had strengthened the US military presence in the region to counter what it called threats from Iran against US forces and interests.

Tehran called US moves a “psychological war” and a “political game.”

The Houthi group, allied to Iran, claimed responsibility for a March 2 attack on two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom accused Tehran of ordering the attack.

Two days earlier, four ships, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the UAE.

Iran and the United States have said they do not want a war.

An Iraqi police source told Reuters that the police special forces found a rocket launcher in the industrial district of eastern Baghdad, about seven kilometers from the Green Zone on the other side of the Tigris River and cordoned off the area.

The source said police were looking for suspects and that a team of bomb experts from the Baghdad Operations Command was checking the rocket launchers.

The Green Zone in Baghdad was a repeated target of mortars during the US occupation of Iraq, which ended in 2011.

Since then, the area has been shelled from time to time. The latest attack occurred in September when three mortar rounds landed inside the Green Zone but caused no casualties.

The Katyusha rocket launcher is a cheap type of artillery that can hit the target faster than conventional artillery, but with less precision.

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