Two and a half months after Iranian ballistic missiles slammed into a US base in central Iraq, lightly wounding more than 100 soldiers, the US finally brought Patriot batteries to defend its troops.
They will be set up at the Ayn al-Assad base and in Erbil, according to reports. The US is withdrawing from six bases and posts in Iraq as coronavirus spreads and Iranian-backed proxies carry out attacks.
The Patriots were requested in January, and US generals, including CENTCOM commander Kenneth McKenzie and Pat White, had been back and forth to Baghdad since then. US Sen. Jim Inhofe came to Baghdad in February, and it appears the US has been pushing Baghdad to let the air-defense systems through.
The issue for the US is that the Americans are in Iraq helping to lead the anti-ISIS coalition, and they are there at the request of the Iraqi government. However, growing Iran-US tensions in the last year have led to US airstrikes in Iraq against Iranian-backed proxies, and this has angered the Iraqi government.
Pro-Iranian parties in parliament want the US to leave and not bring more weapon systems. It appears the US is now consolidating bases, leaving smaller posts and bringing Patriots, perhaps as a trade off with Baghdad or as a reasonable way to defend a smaller number of places.
The Iranian-backed proxies, led by Kataib Hezbollah, have launched rocket attacks on a series of facilities in recent years, including Camp Taji and K-1, where three members of the coalition and a contractor were killed, and Q-West, Balad, Besmaya and Union III near the US Embassy in Baghdad, among other locations.
The US is leaving many places that have been targeted by rocket fire and will stay in fewer locations. Training is ending. Other coalition partners are leaving.
The US increasingly looks like it is manning a dwindling number of posts. The Patriots will defend the key facilities at Ayn al-Assad and likely defend the important US presence in Erbil in the Kurdistan region. Unlike other parts of the Iraq, the Kurdistan region has never seen attacks on US forces or rocket fire against their posts. This region is largely free from terrorist attacks and is safe.
The US has been reticent in the past to move forces to the Kurdistan region because it would appear to benefit the Kurds and send the message that the US is not as committed to the rest of the Iraq. But facts now dictate reality. US forces apparently withdrew from another post in Mosul on Monday as the consolidation continues and US forces leave areas where they could be targeted.
Pro-Iranian groups spread rumors that they will attack the Americans. A group called the “League of Revolutionaries” said it was going to target Americans this week in the Ayn al-Assad base. Former Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has asked groups not to target the US without orders from Baghdad.
Meanwhile, according to rumors in Washington, the US has drawn up plans to strike at Kataib Hezbollah and totally destroy the organization. If such an attack happens, the Patriots might actually be used.