At approximately 03:25 on 26 March, two rockets impacted in the International Zone in central Baghdad. One rocket reportedly impacted near the Baghdad Operations Command Headquarters near the Swords of Qadisiyah (Crossed Swords). The second rocket reportedly impacted near FOB Union III (Al-Tawheed Al-Thalith), the main joint headquarters for CF and ISF for the counter-IS campaign. Both facilities are located within a few hundred meters of the US Embassy. Indirect fire sirens were activated as part of routine responses. No casualties or significant damage were reported.
The point of origin was discovered in the Nahda area, located approximately 5km northeast of the impact sites in the International Zone. No further details pertaining to the point of origin were discussed, with the total number of intended rockets unclear.
The Security Media Cell confirmed an attack involving two rockets impacting at the Baghdad Operations Command and the Joint Operations Command headquarters. The statement noted that these illegal actions complicated the situation while CF are conducting their withdraw from Iraqi bases and reducing the number of advisors. The statement also denounced the conduct of this attack at a time when the national focus should be on combating the coronavirus pandemic. The Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces called for the immediate arrests of the perpetrators, but little optimism is in effect that prosecution efforts will be taken seriously. US government and military officials initially refrained from discussing this attack, undoubtedly preferring that this incident fades into obscurity.
Rocket attack signals continued attack intent surrounding consolidation of US forces:
The 26 March attack concluded a brief week-long lull in indirect fire attacks against US interests in Iraq. This included large-scale rocket attacks against Taji Military Base on 11 March and 14 March, Camp Besmaya on 16 March, and the International Zone on 17 March. At least eight attacks have been conducted against the US Embassy and an adjacent CF headquarters following the milestone marked by the 8 January ballistic missile strikes. Tensions between the US and Iran are elevated amongst a combination of factors including competition for political influence surrounding the prime minister’s post, the ongoing presence of US military forces in Iraq and the associated shadow war with Iranian proxies, and the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iran as aggravated by US sanctions.
A day beforehand on 25 March, Kata’ib Hezbollah issued a statement reporting “suspicious activities by the US and its mercenaries” in Iraq. The statement asserted that the US planned to conduct air assault raids supported by fighter aircraft against positions belonging to Iraq’s “resistance groups”, alluding to Iranian-backed PMF units. Kata’ib Hezbollah denounced these alleged ambitions and intent to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. Kata’ib Hezbollah vowed to respond to any such operations “with full force” by targeting the US “military, security, and economic facilities without exception and turn into their graveyard the positions they have planned to attack.” Kata’ib Hezbollah also warned Iraqi actors against collaborating with the US, stressing that “the Iraqi side will be treated like an enemy.”
More tangible timing influences for the 26 March attack included the withdrawal of US forces from Qayyarah West Airfield later that day, and ongoing efforts to field Patriot missile defense systems at or near Al Asad Air Base. The latest rocket is assessed to have served as a statement that despite the ongoing consolidation of US forces, Iranian proxies retained the capability and intent to target US military and diplomatic interests in Iraq as long as a US military presence remains.
For further discussion and analysis please see our full report.