A US contractor died of a heart attack during a rocket attack on the Al Asad US military base in western Iraq on Wednesday morning, the Pentagon said in a statement.
The Pentagon said approximately ten rockets were fired at the base, and no US soldiers have been reported killed. The contractor “suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering.” So far, the US has not attributed blame for the incident and said they are working with Iraq’s security services on an investigation.
The attack comes after President Biden ordered an airstrike in eastern Syria last Thursday against the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of state-sponsored Shia militias that was formed in 2014 to fight ISIS.
The Pentagon said it targeted Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, two Shia militias that are part of the PMF, in last week’s airstrikes. The US tried to frame the bombing as “defensive” and as a “proportionate” response to rocket attacks against US facilities in Iraq that took place in February.
But the US has offered no evidence that the groups they struck had anything to do with recent attacks, and Kataib Hezbollah has denied any role. Biden’s Syria bombing is widely seen as an attack on Iran as the groups he targeted are considered “Iranian-backed.” While Iran does support many of the Iraqi Shia militias, the amount of influence Tehran has on the groups is largely overblown.
Wednesday’s attack on Al Asad will likely be blamed on Iran or its allies in Iraq. But all signs indicate Iran is looking for a de-escalation in the region and has no interest in orchestrating attacks on the US, as Tehran is hoping for sanctions relief from the Biden administration.
A report from Middle East Eye following Biden’s Syria airstrike said Iran and its Iraqi allies were seeking a de-escalation, but feared Kataib Hezbollah would respond anyway, a sign that the militia is not as controlled by Iran as Washington claims.
The reality in Iraq is that there are many groups that have their own reasons to fire on US bases. While Kataib Hezbollah may not have been behind last month’s attacks on US facilities, they certainly have a reason to attack the US now. And groups like ISIS have a keen interest in provoking a conflict between the US and the Iraqi Shia militias.