Miami Herald

U.S. warns of military response to rocket attack on base in Iraq

CARDINAL GIBBONS GOALKEEPER ALEXIS DEVEAUX MADE A CRITICAL STOP AS THE CHIEFS GIRLS’ SOCCER TEAM WON ITS FIRST STATE CHAMPIONSH­IP,

- BY SAMYA KULLAB AND LOLITA C. BALDOR

The White House warned that the U.S. may consider a military response to the rocket attack that hit an air base on Wednesday in western

Iraq where American and coalition troops are housed, raising concerns this could trigger a new round of escalating violence.

A U.S. contractor died after at least 10 rockets slammed into the base. And while no group claimed responsibi­lity, it was the first strike since the U.S. bombed Iranaligne­d militia targets along the Iraq-Syria border last week.

Heightened tensions with Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq could lead to more attacks, complicati­ng the Biden administra­tion’s desire to open talks with Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal, as well as the ongoing U.S. strategy to focus more attention on Asia.

Asked about the attack, President Joe Biden told reporters, “We are following that through right now.” He added, “Thank God, no one was killed by the rocket, but one individual, a contractor, died of a heart attack. But we’re identifyin­g who’s responsibl­e and we’ll make judgments” about a response.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested that the “calculated” U.S. airstrikes last week could be a model for a military response. Those strikes were in response to an attack on American forces in northern Iraq earlier in February.

“If we assess further response is warranted, we will take action again in a manner and time of our choosing,” Psaki said.

Pentagon spokespers­on John Kirby said the U.S. contractor “suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering” from the attack and died shortly afterward. He said there were no service members injured and all are accounted for. British and Danish troops also are among those stationed at the base.

The U.S. airstrikes last week, which killed one member of the Iranaligne­d militia, had stoked fears of another cycle of tit-for-tat attacks as happened more than a year ago. Those attacks included the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad in January

2020 and set off months of increased troops levels in the region.

Wednesday’s strike hit the same base that Iran struck with a barrage of missiles in January of last year in retaliatio­n for the killing of Soleimani. Dozens of U.S. service members suffered concussion­s in that strike.

The latest attack also came two days before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Iraq despite concerns about security and the coronaviru­s pandemic.

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