(Persia Digest) - A rocket hit the Green Zone in Baghdad on Sunday night, home to Iraqi government offices and those of other foreign governments, where tensions were already high amid a standoff with Iran.
No one was hurt, said Gen. Yahya Rasool of the Baghdad Joint Command, which includes American and Iraqi forces. He confirmed that a Katyusha rocket had landed in the heavily fortified zone and said it had been fired from across the Tigris River.
The American Embassy said that there was no damage to American facilities and that no one had claimed responsibility.
The New York Times reports that the explosion rattled residents of the Green Zone, who said that the strike set off alarms at the United States Embassy. The heavily guarded compound was already on a heightened state of alert after nonemergency personnel there and at the United States Consulate in the northern city of Erbil were ordered last week to leave.
The order came after the Trump administration announced that new intelligence indicated a heightened risk that Iranian forces or proxies were considering an imminent attack on American forces or interests in the Persian Gulf or Iraq.
About 5,200 American forces are stationed in Iraq, most in a handful of bases, helping train the Iraqi military and fighting the Islamic State. There were also a large number of American personnel at the embassy in Baghdad and a much smaller number in Erbil, in the Kurdistan region.
Other Americans are in the region to work in oil and other industries. Exxon Mobil said its foreign staff had been withdrawn in light of the American decision to curtail embassy staff. Iraq’s oil minister, Thamir Ghadban, said over the weekend that 80 foreigners had left the country.
Also in response to concerns about Iran, this month the United States accelerated the movement of American ships and bombers into the Persian Gulf. President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, has long been a fierce critic of the government in Tehran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Tuesday, saying that while the United States would not “start a war” with Iran, there would be a vigorous response to any attack. He said the firepower steaming toward the Persian Gulf was intended as a deterrent.
A number of armed groups in Iraq were formed to fight the Islamic State but were organized, armed and even trained by forces linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Those militias are now under the Iraqi government’s command, but a few have deep ties to Iran.
While the Iraqi government has told all sides that it does not want to a war between Iran and the United States to be fought on its soil, it is not clear whether every group with ties to Iran has gotten the message. Iraqi officials met with the militias after Mr. Pompeo’s visit and said that if any of them attacked the United States, they would be viewed as enemies of Iraq.
Iraqi security officials said the rocket that struck Sunday was fired from a street near the Technology University on the east side of the Tigris, a mixed area that is home to Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as Christians.
Katyusha rockets were often used in Iraq during the fighting that racked the country from 2003-2009. Both rockets and mortar shells, especially the latter, were routinely fired at the Green Zone.
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