WASHINGTON (March 3, 2021) — A U.S. contractor died Wednesday when at least 10 rockets slammed into Ain al-Asad airbase housing U.S. and other coalition troops in western Iraq, the Pentagon said.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the contractor “suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering” and died shortly afterward. He said there were no service members injured and all are accounted for.
The rocket attack was the first since the U.S. struck Iran-aligned militia targets along the Iraq-Syria border last week, killing one militiaman and stoking fears of another cycle of tit-for-tat attacks as happened last year. Those attacks culminated in the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad.
No one claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, which comes two days before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the country amid concerns about security and the coronavirus pandemic. The much-anticipated trip will include stops in Baghdad, southern Iraq and the northern city of Irbil.
The Iraqi military released a statement saying that Wednesday’s attack did not cause significant losses and that security forces had found the launch pad used for the rockets — a truck. Video of the site shows a burning truck in a desert area.
British Ambassador to Iraq Stephen Hickey condemned the attack, saying it undermined the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group. “Coalition forces are in Iraq to fight Daesh at the invitation of the Iraqi government,” he tweeted, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “These terrorist attacks undermine the fight against Daesh and destabilize Iraq.”
Denmark said coalition forces at the base were helping to bring stability and security to the country.
“Despicable attacks against Ain al-Asad base in #Iraq are completely unacceptable,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod tweeted. The Danish armed forces said two Danes who were at the base at the time of the attack are unharmed.
Last week’s U.S. strike along the border was in response to a spate of rocket attacks that targeted the American presence, including one that killed a coalition contractor from the Philippines outside the Irbil airport.
Source: AP News contributed to this article.
Photo: Iraqi people prepare to welcome Pope Francis (AFP or licensors)