Iranian-backed militants fired ballistic missiles for the first time in two years at a US base in Iraq

Iranian-backed militants fired ballistic missiles for the first time in two years at a US base in Iraq
Iran-backed militants fired ballistic missiles for the first time in two years at a US base in Iraq on January 20 as tensions in the region continue to rise / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews January 21, 2024

Irankian-backed militants fired ballistic missiles at a US base in Iraq on January 20 for the first time in two years, causing minor injuries to US personnel, but marking a significant escalation in rising tensions in the region.

Several US military personnel suffered minor injuries and a member of Iraq's security forces was wounded in the attack on the US airbase in Iraq's Ain al-Asad, a US official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The US military's Central Command said in a statement that the base was hit by multiple ballistic missiles and rockets fired by Iranian-backed militants from inside Iraq.

“At approximately 6:30 p.m. (Baghdad time) time Jan. 20, multiple ballistic missiles and rockets were launched by Iranian-backed militants in Western Iraq targeting al-Assad Airbase. Most of the missiles were intercepted by the base's air defence systems while others impacted on the base,” CENTCOM said in a social media post.

“Damage assessments are ongoing. A number of US personnel are undergoing evaluation for traumatic brain injuries. At least one Iraqi service member was wounded,” it added.

"Islamic Resistance in Iraq," a loose alliance of Iran-linked armed groups that oppose US support for Israel in the Gaza conflict claimed responsibility for the attack, AFP reported, highlighting that the use of ballistic missiles marks an escalation in the attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria, who had previously been targeted with lower-tech rockets and drones.

As bne IntelliNews reported, the situation in the Middle East has rapidly decayed in the last week following a series of bombings and drone strikes in countries across the region that has escalated to missile and missile counter-strikes.

While experts say that the region is not on the verge of war yet, it moves closer to a conflagration with each exchange of rockets. Notably, Iran and Pakistan tried to dial back tensions on January 20, agreeing to restore diplomatic relations after both had fired missiles into each other’s territory only day before.

Earlier on January 20, Iranian media reported that five members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in an alleged Israeli strike on Damascus. Tehran responded by vowing revenge.

This came after Iran targeted an alleged Israeli intelligence agent in Iraqi Kurdistan on January 15.

Besides retaliatory strikes launched by Israel on the one hand and Resistance forces (Iran-backed groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen who support the Palestinians) on the other, Washington has on several occasions launched strikes of its own ever since the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

According to the Pentagon, dozens of US personnel have been lightly wounded in retaliatory strikes against American bases in Iraq and Syria.

There are roughly 2,500 American troops in Iraq and some 900 in Syria.

Al-Asad air base came under another attack on January 8, 2020 by IRGC in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad a few days earlier.