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Trump warns Iran not to retaliate for general’s death as rockets fall near US troops

An aerial photo of Joint Base Balad, Iraq, after all U.S. forces departed the base Nov. 8, 2011.

QUENTIN JOHNSON/U.S. ARMY

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 4, 2020

IRBIL, Iraq — President Donald Trump said the United States will target 52 Iranian sites if the country strikes American personnel or assets in response to the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed Friday by a U.S. airstrike.

“Those targets and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,” Trump said in a tweet Saturday.

The online warning came after rockets struck areas of Baghdad, an air base used by American troops and a soccer field in Mosul on Saturday.

“Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American,” Trump said. “The USA wants no more threats!”

Reports of the attacks came as thousands of militiamen and other supporters marched in a funeral procession in Baghdad for Soleimani.

Meanwhile, a Shiite militia commander hinted at more strikes to come.

Five Iraqi civilians were reported injured in the capital’s Jadriya neighborhood, according to regional news site Al Arabiya.

No casualties were reported at a second Baghdad impact site, Grand Celebrations Square in the Green Zone.

Separate attacks hit Balad Air Base, about 55 miles north of Baghdad, and the northern city of Mosul, but did not cause casualties, initial reports said.

Several hours later, the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State in the country issued a statement denying that the Mosul strike had hit a military headquarters compound in the northern Iraqi city.

Iraqi Security Forces are investigating the incidents In Baghdad and Balad, which bring the number of rocket strikes on bases hosting coalition troops in the past two months to 13.

“Previous attacks, in November and December, killed and wounded Iraqi and Coalition personnel,” said Col. Myles Caggins III, a spokesman for the coalition.

After a base was rocketed in Kirkuk in late December, the first of the recent spate of attacks to draw American blood, the Defense Department responded by striking five sites used by the Iran-backed militia group Kataeb Hezbollah, which the Pentagon has blamed for the base attacks.

Shortly after the latest rockets fell, a Kataeb Hezbollah commander issued a warning in a channel on the Telegram app telling Iraqi security forces to stay at least 1,000 meters from American bases, suggesting more attacks are to come.

Meanwhile, the coalition has increased security and defensive measures at Iraqi bases hosting its troops, Caggins said.

U.S. and coalition troops typically live in separate compounds from their Iraqi counterparts, but within the same bases as them, meaning rocket strikes could inflict damage or casualties to Iraqi forces. The strike that spilled American blood last month also wounded two Iraqi troops, and earlier strikes had exclusively wounded government forces.

Iran telling Iraqi government forces what to do “puts Iraqi patriot’s lives at risk,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a pair of Twitter posts about the Kataeb Hezbollah warning.

The rockets hit Baghdad and Balad minutes apart, just before 8 p.m. Saturday, the coalition statement said. In the capital, the indirect fire impacted inside the heavily-fortified international zone, but outside coalition facilities, Caggins said.

About an hour later, Army Maj. Charlie Dietz, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition’s Task Force Iraq, tweeted that “all clear” had been sounded at Union III, a base inside the zone that houses coalition troops.

Dietz later confirmed that a rocket had hit near a soccer field in Mosul and was being worked on by explosive ordnance disposal personnel.

U.S. and Iraqi forces occupy a pair of adjoining compounds in a Mosul palace complex on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. The complex was not struck, Dietz said.
 

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland

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U.S. soldiers from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force-Iraq, take up defensive positions at Forward Operating Base Union III, Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 31, 2019. About an hour after rocket attacks were reported on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, a U.S. official tweeted that “all clear” had been sounded at Union III, a base inside the zone that houses coalition troops in Baghdad.
DESMOND CASSELL/U.S. ARMY

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