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Armed groups use of drones in Iraq ‘concerning’: US commander

The use of drones by armed groups in Iraq to attack military bases is concerning, the head of the US Central Command said on Monday.

Speaking with reporters, Commander General Kenneth McKenzie said armed groups are resorting to drone attacks to accelerate the US withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

“We are seeing pressure from Iranian-affiliated militant groups that want to push us out of Iraq, and the latest manifestation of that has been the use of small unmanned aerial systems, or drones,” said the commander.

“They are resorting to this technique because they have been unable to force the Government of Iraq to require that we leave. So political pressure has not worked for them,” he added. “The threat is concerning and we will take whatever measures are necessary to defend ourselves.”

Ain al-Asad airbase was targeted by drones shortly after midnight on Sunday.

Erbil International Airport was also targeted by an explosives-laden drone in April.

In May, a leader in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashd al-Shaabi) affiliated with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense said there are Iranian-made drones in Iraq that are ready to be used against US combat troops in the country.

Attacks on Iraqi bases, especially those hosting US troops, have increased since the US assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad in January 2020. Most of the attacks are blamed on Iranian-backed militia groups who have called for the withdrawal of US troops in the country.

McKenzie stressed that the US forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, praising the role of the Iraqi forces and the development of their combat capabilities.

“Another priority is deterring Iran’s destabilizing activities, which remains the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East. I believe that our posture in the region has had a deterrent effect on Iran and made it more difficult for them to deny attribution for their malign activities.”

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly said the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC) was targeted by a drone early Sunday morning. The attack on the BDSC was a rocket that landed near the center.