Rocket lands near US embassy in Iraq as tensions rise

A rocket hit the fortified area of Baghdad which houses the US embassy on Sunday evening, adding to jitters after American diplomats were evacuated from Iraq this week because of rising tensions between the US and Iran.

The Iraqi military said that a “rocket fell in the middle of the Green Zone” — the area of central Baghdad which holds foreign embassies and government buildings.

In a statement, the Iraqi military said the Katyusha rocket, a notoriously inaccurate explosive, caused no casualties. It did not say who had launched the attack.

Washington has warned of an increasing but unspecified threat in Iraq from neighbouring Iran, which supports a plethora of powerful Iraqi Shia militias. Some Shia militia leaders have previously said they want the US to pull its troops — around 5,000 — out of the country. The American military personnel have been assisting Iraqi security forces in combating Isis, the Sunni jihadist group.

The rocket attack on the Green Zone, the first since late last year, comes after Iraq’s oil minister slammed a decision by US oil company Exxon Mobil to evacuate its American staff from an oilfield it operates in southern Iraq this weekend.

Thamer Ghadhban, Iraqi oil minister, called the move “unacceptable and unjustified” in a statement posted to the ministry’s website. Mr Ghadhban insisted that the area around the West Qurna 1 oilfield was stable and safe.

Sabotage of several oil tankers in the Gulf, as well as a drone attack on a Saudi Arabian oil pumping facility claimed by Iran-backed rebels in Yemen, have escalated tensions in the region.

The US has sent additional military assets to the Gulf this month in response to what it says are credible threats from Tehran. It accuses Iran of spreading malign influence in the Middle East through proxy forces in countries including war-torn Yemen and Syria, as well as Iraq and Lebanon.

Washington also wants Iran to renegotiate an international deal to curb its nuclear weapons ambitions, following President Trump’s unilaterally withdrawal from the Obama-era pact. Iran’s economy is under pressure from renewed US sanctions on its oil and metals industries.

Both Iran and the US have said they do not want war. President Trump has said we would like to see Tehran “call me”. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said “neither we are looking for a war, nor they are”.

But Iraqis fear confrontation between the two countries — who are both Iraq’s allies — could happen in their country.




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