Following at least one Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces militia’s promise to return to “open war,” US forces in Syria came under rocket attack Monday evening. Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto said in a tweet that, at approximately 7:44 p.m. local time, multiple rockets were fired at US positions, causing no casualties. The damage is being assessed, according to the tweet. The possible reprisal against American troops comes amid new calls from the Iraqi government to set a firm timeline for removing US combat troops from the country.
Initial report: At approx. 7:44 PM local time, U.S. Forces in Syria were attacked by multiple rockets. There are no injuries and damage is being assessed. We will provide updates when we have more information.
— OIR Spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto (@OIRSpox) June 28, 2021
Additionally, Marotto tweeted that US troops in Syria had launched counter-battery artillery fire at the positions where the rocket fire originated. The troops acted in “self-defense” while under “multiple rocket attack,” according to the tweet.
Defense officials have released no information regarding who attacked American positions in Syria. According to Kurdistan 24, the targeted US facility is located in the Omar oil field in Syria’s Deir el-Zor province. The province is a point of regional friction, as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces control territory east of the Euphrates River, while Iraqi militias, supported in part by Iran, control the western bank, including Deir el-Zor city.
The rocket attack on American positions in Syria came a day after President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes on three facilities linked to drone attacks on US troops in the region. According to NBC News, militias in Iraq have launched at least five drone strikes on the US and coalition personnel in Iraq since April, making the airstrikes Sunday evening defensive in nature.
“As a matter of international law, the United States acted pursuant to its right of self-defense,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a Department of Defense release Sunday. “The strikes were both necessary to address the threat and appropriately limited in scope.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, one of the airstrikes occurred inside Iraqi territory, marking the first time the US had bombed Iraqi territory since May 2020, prompting a rare condemnation from the Iraqi government. Shortly after the strikes occurred, Maj. Gen. Yehia Rasool, a military spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, called the strikes a “blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security.”
According to Al Jazeera, thousands of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces members held a demonstration and symbolic funeral Tuesday for members who were killed in the US airstrikes. The demonstrators massed near the “Green Zone” in Baghdad while chanting “death to America” and “vengeance for the martyrs.”
Shortly following the airstrikes on Sunday, Sayyid al-Shuhada, one of the PMF militias targeted, issued a statement vowing “open war” against US forces in Iraq. According to Al Jazeera, Ahmad al-Maqsusi, a commander in the al-Shuhada militia, said during the Baghdad demonstration that it was time for US troops to leave the country.
“Since the parliament passed a resolution the presence of foreign troops in the country is unlawful,” al-Maqsusi told Al Jazeera.
In April, representatives from Washington and Baghdad met for the fourth time to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. Ultimately, they agreed to a withdrawal of US combat troops. However, no date was set, and the timing was “to be established” in “upcoming talks.”
Biden’s Sunday airstrikes appear to have inflamed tensions with both Iraqis and the Iraqi government. According to Al Jazeera, Iraq’s national security adviser Qasim al-Araji said al-Kadhimi, the prime minister, who condemned the strikes as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security,” would discuss the removal of US troops in Iraq with Biden sometime soon.
“Iraq’s government stance is clear and the prime minister condemned the attack, it is a violation of the state’s sovereignty,” al-Araji told Al Jazeera. “The prime minister is planning a visit to Washington to set a timetable for US troop withdrawal.”