Kataeb Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite paramilitary group, are the only known group in the region to launch attacks similar to Wednesday’s, says the head of US forces in the Middle East. General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command, told a US Senate committee in Washington that Iran was to blame as it is the “only known group” to have carried out such missile strikes in the area. He told US lawmakers today: “The Iranian proxy group Kata’eb Hezbollah is the only group known to have previously conducted an indirect fire attack of this scale against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.
Mr McKenzie said Iran’s proxy groups have shown reluctance to evacuate the area, adding: “What has not changed is their continuing desire to operate through their proxies indirectly against us.”
British army medic, Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, 26, died after a dozen missiles were fired at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad. Two US servicemen were also killed in the attack, and another 12 military personnel were injured.
While McKenzie did not outline plans to retaliate, he now has two strike-aircraft carriers in the Middle East, the USS Harry Truman and USS Dwight D.Eisenhower.
Longstanding tension between the US over Iran’s nuclear programme came to a head last December when a US contractor was killed at a military base in northern Iraq.
Donald Trump blamed the incident on Iran-backed militia, causing relations to spiral and the US authorised a tsunami of airstrikes against Kataib Hezbollah in Syria and Iraq.
The US assassinated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander, Qassem Soleimani, on January 3, in an airstrike near Baghdad airport, resulting in Iran triggering a dozen missiles at two bases in Iraq.
At the time, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged to take “severe revenge” and thousands of protestors including some of the country’s officials chanted “death to America” for the killing.
But, relations cooled after Iranian air defence mistakenly gunned down a Ukrainian civilian airliner slaughtering 176 people onboard.
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After the most recent attack, a US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria confirmed in a tweet more than 15 small rockets had impacted Iraq’s Camp Taji base at 7.35pm.
A spokesman for the camp said an investigation had been launched.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the attack would “not be tolerated”, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was a “cowardly” act on Thursday.
He added: “We will defend against these deplorable acts and hold those responsible to account.
Ben Wallace, Britain’s defence secretary, said Thursday: “Last night’s attack on UK and coalition personnel was a cowardly and retrograde act. The men and women of the UK armed forces are in Iraq to help that country establish stability and prosperity. The people that did this are not friends of Iraq.”
In January, the Ministry of Defence told PA there were around 400 personnel in Iraq across three main bases – Camp Taji near Baghdad, Union III in Baghdad, and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
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