Late Tuesday, a volley of rockets struck the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, killing a girl and breaking a month-long truce in attacks against the US embassy.
The violence came as Washington announced a historic cut in its troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the Iraqi military, four of the rockets landed in the green high-security zone where the US embassy and other foreign missions are located.
Another three missiles struck other parts of Baghdad, killing a girl and wounding five civilians.
All seven missiles were fired from the same location in eastern Baghdad, the Iraqi military said in a statement.
AFP reporters heard several large explosions, followed by rapid-fire sounds and red flares lighting the sky, indicating that the embassy’s C-RAM missile defense system was being deployed.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition said Iraqi intelligence had confirmed a missile attack on the US embassy but refused to comment on C-RAM usage.
As of October 2019, nearly 90 deadly missile attacks and roadside bombs have targeted foreign embassies, troops and other facilities across Iraq.
The attacks were alleged by groups known by both US and Iraqi officials as a “smoke screen” for die-hard Iranian-leaning factions in Iraq.
The US has specifically named Kataeb Hezbollah as part of some violent acts and bombed the group twice.
The attacks enraged Washington, which has put Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi under pressure to crack down on the perpetrators.
Last month the US issued an ultimatum to Kadhemi’s administration threatening to close its diplomatic compound in Baghdad if the missiles did not stop.
Troops trickle out
The escalation caused pro-Iranian factions to announce a ceasefire for an unspecified period of time. The missiles stopped immediately, and Tuesday’s attack was the first in more than a month.
It came just hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, according to Iraqi sources, forwarded the threat to close the embassy called Kadhemi.
Around the same time, the US announced that it would reduce troop strengths in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 in each country, the lowest level in nearly 20 years of war.
In Washington, as part of the US-led coalition, around 3,000 soldiers are still stationed in Iraq who have been helping the country in the fight against the Islamic state group since 2014.
The coalition had already significantly reduced its troop strength this year, which was partly due to the travel restrictions imposed by Covid-19
But the troop presence annoys Iraq’s eastern neighbor and key ally Iran, which has insisted that the US withdraw militarily from across the Middle East.
Tehran has been stepping up those calls since January when a US drone strike in Baghdad killed Iranian top general Qasem Soleimani and a leading Iraqi paramilitary official.
Outraged by the strike, the Iraqi parliament voted for all foreign troops to leave the country and pro-Tehran factions organized a series of demonstrations against the US military.
The Kadhemi-led government has been slow to make the decision and has instead entered into a strategic dialogue with the US on military, diplomatic and economic issues.
Iraqi officials told AFP they hope the dialogue continues as planned after President-elect Joe Biden took over the US administration in January.
But they see a turbulent couple of months ahead of them: officials expect President Donald Trump to launch a “bucket list of sanctions” against Iranian entities, including some operating in Iraq.
They didn’t rule out the Trump administration taking military action against Iranian interests in Iraq at the last minute.
And they confirmed that despite the ceasefire last month, the US had continued planning for the embassy to withdraw.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)