U.S., Coalition Personnel Killed By Rocket Attacks, Airstrikes Target Iraq, Syria Border

U.S. and allied personnel were killed and other injured in a rocket strike against a military base north of Baghdad, an attack soon followed by airstrikes against suspected militia positions along the border of Iraq and Syria.

"Three Coalition personnel were killed during a rocket attack on Camp Taji, Iraq, March 11. The names of the personnel are withheld pending next of kin notification, in accordance with national policies," the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) said in a statement. "Approximately 12 additional personnel were wounded during the attack. The attack is under investigation by the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. Camp Taji is an Iraqi base that hosts Coalition personnel for training and advising missions."

"Approximately 18 107mm Katyusha rockets struck the base. The Iraqi Security Forces found a rocket-rigged truck, a few miles from Camp Taji," the statement added.

Pentagon spokesperson Navy Captain Bill Urban first told The Washington Post that two U.S. personnel and another coalition member were among the dead. Various outlets, including The Post, cited unnamed officials identifying the third killed servicemember as being from the United Kingdom.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the attack as "deplorable" and "abhorrent" in a statement.

"Our servicemen and women work tirelessly every day to uphold security and stability in the region—their presence makes us all safer," he added, stating that he spoke with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and was investigating the attack.

Pompeo later said he spoke to U.K. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab and warned the deadly attack "would not be tolerated." He stated, "those responsible will be held accountable."

The Iraqi military's Security Media Cell first reported Wednesday on "the landing of ten Katyusha rockets inside the Taji camp, without losses." The post was shared alongside pictures of what was said to be a "Kia Bongo bearing a missile platform found with three missiles remaining south of the Rashidiya area."

Coalition spokesperson U.S. Army Colonel Myles B. Caggins III then confirmed that "more than 15 small rockets impacted Iraq's Camp Taji base hosting Coalition troops, March 11 at 7:35 p.m. (Iraq Time)." He added: "Assessment and investigation ongoing."

Shortly after the rocket strikes, the official Syrian Arab News Agency and Al-Ikhbariya outlet reported that unidentified aircraft were conducting airstrikes on the southeastern area of Al-Bukamal, in the eastern Deir Ezzor province that borders Iraq, causing material damage. The region is largely under the control of the Syrian government and allied, Iran-backed militias that have fought ISIS on both sides of the border.

"There has been no targeting of Popular Mobilization contingents," a spokesperson for the Popular Mobilization Forces, a collective of Iraqi state-sponsored militias, told Newsweek. "The strike targeted military headquarters in the Al-Hari area, which is located 10 miles from the border of Iraq, within Syria."

"We emphasize this important point: There is no Popular Mobilization Forces outside of the Iraqi border," the spokesperson added.

iraq, rocket, launcher, baghdad, attack
A picture shared March 11 by the Iraqi military's Security Cell shows what was said to be a Kia Bongo truck bearing a Katyusha rocket launcher with three projectiles still in their tube. The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS said U.S. and allied troops came under rocket attack at the Taji Base north of Baghdad. Iraqi Security Media Cell

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitor with ties to Syria's exiled opposition, reported that three warplanes targeted the Popular Mobilization Forces' Imam Ali Brigades in the Al-Hassyan area of Al-Bukamal, killing 18 members of the Iraqi militia collective.

Two U.S. Marines were killed Saturday while supporting Iraqi forces battle ISIS in the north central Makhmour Mountains, according to the U.S.-led coalition and Pentagon. Both the U.S. and Iran have supported Iraq battle the jihadis over recent years but have largely turned their attention toward one another as tensions worsened.

The U.S. previously targeted positions of an Iran-linked Popular Mobilization Forces group called Kataib Hezbollah along the Iraq-Syria border late last year in response to the death of a Pentagon contractor in a similar attack using Katyusha rockets. The strikes killed over two dozen people and led outraged militia supporters to storm the gates of Washington's embassy in Baghdad for two days on December 31 and January 1.

Just two days later, the U.S. assassinated Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in a dramatic escalation of simmering tensions between the two countries. Iran retaliated with a barrage of missiles against an Iraqi base housing U.S. personnel, injuring more than 100 of them.

On Tuesday, Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon was "in the process of bringing air defense systems, ballistic missile defense systems, into Iraq in particular, to protect ourselves against another potential Iranian attack." Tehran, for its part, sent Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani to Baghdad over the weekend to shore up ties and call for an end to U.S. military presence, which Iraqi lawmakers have called into question amid heightened tensions.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command said Wednesday denounced the recent rocket strike at Taji, however, as "a very serious security challenge and hostile act."

"The Prime Minister directed the Commander-in-Chief, the Armed Forces, to open an immediate investigation to find out who carried out this dangerous and hostile act, and to prosecute, arrest, and present it to the judiciary, whatever the party," the command said in a statement. "We call on the citizens to provide any information about the perpetrators of this act. The Joint Operations Command also confirms that it has taken firm measures and will vigorously address any targeting of military camps and bases."

The command emphasized that "the coalition forces are present with the approval of the Iraqi government and its mission is to train the Iraqi forces and fight ISIS, and not any other party." The command noted that the coalition had been "officially informed" and were in "serious discussions" regarding the Iraqi government and parliament's decision to call on foreign forces to leave after the U.S. strike that killed Soleimani, along with Popular Mobilization Forces deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, but "such actions impede these efforts and complicate the situation in Iraq."

Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has repeatedly warned he would not allow his country to become a battleground between the U.S. and Iran.

Shortly after Wednesday's violence unfolded, the House of Representatives passed a War Powers Resolution targeting President Donald Trump's ability to wage war against Iran. The measure was adopted first by the Senate last month in the wake of Soleimani's slaying and Wednesday marks only the third time in history the 1973 act has been invoked, with both previous times targeting Trump's assistance to the Saudi-led war against Yemen's Ansar Allah, or Houthi movement, which is accused of receiving Iranian backing.

Trump has said he would veto the measure. The president was set to address the nation from the Oval Office at 9 p.m. ET, though this was believed to be in relation to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the international community, including the U.S., Iran, Iraq and more than 100 other countries around the world.

This is a developing story, more information will be added as it becomes available.

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