U.S. says it thwarted drone attack on its troops in Iraq

US intercepts drones aiming to strike military forces in Iraq as Washington is on heightened alert for attacks by Iran-backed groups while Biden flies in to Tel Aviv amid soaring tensions over Hamas-Israel war

  • The US military shot down two one-way attack drones in Iraq early Wednesday, hours after a strike on a Gaza hospital killed hundreds of people  

The U.S. military thwarted an attack targeting its forces in Iraq early on Wednesday, intercepting two drones before they could strike, two U.S. officials said after the first such attack on U.S. forces in Iraq in more than a year.

The officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, declined to say who was suspected of the attack but Washington is on heightened alert for activity by Iran-backed groups amid soaring tension in the region over the Israel-Hamas war.

Last week, Iraqi armed groups aligned with Iran threatened to target U.S. interests with missiles and drones if Washington intervened to support Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

The one-way attack drones were intercepted as they attempted to strike Iraq’s al Asad air base, which hosts American troops, the officials said.

The attack came hours after a strike on a Gaza hospital killed hundreds of Palestinians, raising the stakes for U.S. President Joe Biden as he landed in Israel on Wednesday to signal support for its war against Hamas.

The al-Asad base, located just north of Falluja, has been the target of attempted drone attacks in the past 

This Dec. 29, 2019, aerial file photo taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq

The attempted attack came after another night of vehemently pro-Palestinian protests in Baghdad’s Tahir Square

The group responsible for the attack have not been identified but the attempt was made hours after hundreds of Palestinians were killed following a strike on the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza

During a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Joe Biden said that the hospital attack was done by ‘the other team’

Israel blamed the blast at Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital on a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, which denied responsibility.

Palestinian officials said an Israeli air strike hit the hospital, with the Palestinian Authority’s health minister accusing Israel of causing a ‘massacre.’

On Tuesday, U.S. officials elevated  its travel advisory and allowing non-emergency personnel to leave Lebanon after the embassy in Beirut was targeted by Pro-Palestinian protestors who started a fire at the complex.

U.S. servicemembers deployed smoke and gas to disperse the protestors who gathered at the embassy following an attack on a hospital in Gaza. Hours after the protests began, the State Department issued the travel advisory.

‘The Department authorized the voluntary, temporary departure of family members of US government personnel and some non-emergency personnel from US Embassy Beirut due to the unpredictable security situation in Lebanon,’ the announcement read.

In Iraq, tension over the war in Gaza had already been high. Its top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, last week condemned Israel and called on the world to stand up to the ‘terrible brutality’ in Gaza.

Leaders of Iraqi armed groups blamed Israel for the attack on the hospital. Some of them condemned the U.S. for supporting Israel.

Kataib Hezbollah, a powerful armed faction with close ties to Iran, said that the United States, which is supporting Israel in ‘killing innocent people’, should leave Iraq.

Hundreds of Lebanese protesters, some waving Palestinian flags, gathered late into Tuesday night outside the U.S. embassy in response to the incident. Others gathered outside the French embassy in Beirut 

Protests erupted outside the U.S. embassy in Beirut just hours after a blast at a hospital in Gaza that Hamas claims killed at least 500 people and has more trapped under rubble

 ‘These evil people must leave the country, otherwise they will taste the fire of hell in this world before the afterlife,’ the group said in a statement last night.

Iraqi politician Hadi Al-Amiri, leader of the political and military group the Badr Organization which is close to Iran, also blamed Israel for the attack on the hospital and described it as ‘the massacre of the era, which can only be classified as a war crime’ and condemned the U.S. and Western countries for supporting Israel.

We ‘will not hesitate to consider America and the West as partners in this hideous massacre’, he said in a statement on Tuesday night. Last week he threatened to target U.S. interests if Washington intervened to support Israel.

The United States currently has 2,500 troops in Iraq – and an additional 900 in neighboring Syria – on a mission to advise and assist local forces in combating Islamic State, which in 2014 seized swathes of territory in both countries.

In past years, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq regularly targeted U.S. forces in Iraq and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad with rockets, though such attacks have abated under a truce in place since last year, as Iraq enjoys a period of relative calm.

U.S. officials have accused Kataib Hezbollah of previous attacks on U.S. interests. The group has denied the claims.

Dozens of members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), the state paramilitary organization that contains many Iran-backed factions, took to the streets on Tuesday to condemn the hospital attack.

Demonstrators chanted anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli slogans and said they wanted to storm the U.S. embassy for its support of Israel.

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