Iran and Russia hold joint Navy drills in the Indian ocean
Iran and Russia hold sabre-rattling joint Navy drills in the Indian ocean hours after being blamed for rocket attack on US base in Iraq
- The militaries of Iran and Russia today held joint naval drills in the Indian ocean
- ‘Maritime Security Belt Exercise’ aims to enhance security of maritime trade
- The drills are expected to last for three days, and the Indian Navy will join in
- Comes after more than a dozen rockets fired at Erbil International Airport in Iraq
- Attack claimed by ‘Guardians of Blood,’ believed to be front for pro-Iran faction
Iran held a joint naval drill in the Indian Ocean with Russia today only hours after being blamed for the rocket attack on a US military base in Iraq.
The ‘Maritime Security Belt Exercise’, held in the north of the Indian ocean is designed to ‘enhance security’ of maritime trade, state television claims.
Drill spokesman Rear Admiral Gholamreza Tahani said the 17,000 square kilometres exercise involved units from the Iranian army and the elite Revolutionary Guards in addition to the Russian navy.
‘The purposes of this drill are to enhance security of international maritime trade, confront maritime piracy and terrorism, and exchange information,’ he added.
Iran held a joint naval drill in the Indian Ocean with Russia today only hours after being blamed for the rocket attack on a US military base in Iraq
The ‘Maritime Security Belt Exercise’, held in the north of the Indian ocean is designed to ‘enhance security’ of maritime trade, state television claims
In a statement issued yesterday, the Russian Baltic Fleet said that three of its vessels would be involved in the drill and that exercises would include ‘liberating a commercial ship abducted by pirates’ and fire fighting fires.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA said the drill is expected to last three days, and the Indian navy is expected to join the drills in a message of ‘peace and friendship for neighbouring and regional countries’.
The Iranian army said that the exercises will also ‘expand bilateral relations’ with Russia.
Iran, China and Russia held a similar drill in the area in 2019, and the Islamic republic participated in ‘Caucus 2020’ drills held in Russia last September.
Drill spokesman Rear Admiral Gholamreza Tahani said the 17,000 square kilometres exercise involved units from the Iranian army and the elite Revolutionary Guards in addition to the Russian navy
In a statement issued yesterday, the Russian Baltic Fleet said that three of its vessels would be involved in the drill and that exercises would include ‘liberating a commercial ship abducted by pirates’ and fire fighting fires
It comes only hours after a rocket strike on a US base in Iraq by a group believed to have links to Iran has wounded several Americans and killed a foreign contractor.
More than a dozen 107mm rockets were last night fired at the military complex in Erbil airport that has hosted troops deployed as part of the international alliance fighting ISIS since 2014.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was ‘outraged’ and vowed to ‘hold accountable those responsible’ without giving details on the injured Americans.
The bombardment was claimed by a shadowy group calling itself ‘Guardians of Blood,’ which US forces believe is one of many which have sprung up in Iraq as fronts for pro-Iranian factions.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA said the drill is expected to last three days, and the Indian navy is expected to join the drills
Iranian and Russian navy personnel meet each other during a joint-naval drill in the northern Indian Ocean today, which is set to take place over three days
The United Nations warned today Iraq could spin out of control following the first attacks on Western forces in almost two months.
Monday’s attack will be the first big test of US President Joe Biden’s Middle East policies. His predecessor Donald Trump had threatened Iran that the killing of an American national in such a strike would prompt a mass bombing campaign.
A U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020 sent the region to the brink of a full-scale confrontation.
Video shows red hot shrapnel and smoke filling the air after a rocket landed in the middle of a street in Erbil last night. As well as the US contractors wounded and the foreign contractor killed, five Iraqi civilians were wounded in the attack
A wounded civilian is treated in the hospital after last night’s rocket strikes directed at the US-led coalition based at Erbil International Airport
Images shared on social media which purports to show an un-exploded 107mm rocket (the same projectile from two different angles). It was discovered on the outskirts of Erbil last night after it missed its target. The 107mm rocket has been used by pro-Iran factions in the past, they have a range of around 5 miles, employ 18 pounds of high explosive (HE) fragmentation warhead and are manually fired from 12-tube launchers which are often vehicle mounted
More than a dozen 107mm rockets were fired at the military complex in Erbil airport on Monday evening that has hosted troops deployed as part of the international alliance fighting ISIS since 2014. The base is where the highest concentration of America’s remaining 2,500 troops in the war-ravaged country are stationed.
Debris is seen after last night’s rocket attack. More than a dozen projectiles were launched at the US base in the city, many of the missed and fell in residential areas
Coalition spokesman Wayne Marotto said three rockets hit the airport, killing one foreign civilian contractor who is not an American national. Another nine people were wounded, including eight civilian contractors and one US soldier, he said.
Today, the Guardians of Blood took credit for the attack, posting on Telegram: ‘On February 15 at exactly 21:15 your people in the Guardians of Blood succeeded in carrying out a quality operation against the American occupation in our beloved north.
‘We reached a distance of seven kilometers from the Al-Harir occupation base in Erbil and successfully struck a lethal blow comprising 24 missiles which made precise hits on their targets. This was after the CRAM system and the shells of the occupation did not manage to intercept them. Heavy damage was caused to the enemy’s vehicles, storehouses, and planes and there are many wounded in the ranks of the occupation forces.’
The United Nations’ top representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, slammed the attack.
‘Such heinous, reckless acts pose grave threats to stability,’ she posted on Twitter, calling for ‘restraint’ and cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil on a probe.
Pro-Iran attacks against the US in Iraq
Western military and diplomatic sites have been targeted by dozens of rockets and roadside bombs since late 2019, with both foreign and Iraqi personnel killed.
In December 2019, a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a base in Kirkuk province, prompting the US to respond with air strikes against Kataeb Hezbollah.
Furious pro-Iranian militia men stormed the US embassy in Baghdad following the strikes on Kataeb Hezbollah.
Kataeb Hezbollah is an Iran-sponsored Shia Muslim faction which is part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The PMF was assembled by Iraq to help combat Islamic State but, since defeating the radicals, the PMF has been unwilling to bend to the government in Baghdad.
Just days after the storming of the US embassy in Baghdad, top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed in a rocket strike on January 3.
His motorcade was obliterated by a US Reaper drone after he arrived from either Syria or Iraq.
Several PMF commanders were also killed in the strike.
Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s foreign policy and Washington said his travel throughout the Middle East, especially into Iraq and Syria, was inextricably linked to Tehran’s anti-American designs.
Following the strike, rocket attacks were carried out by pro-Iranian militia on al-Asad, a coalition airbase in the west of Iraq.
In March 2020, another rocket attack killed two Americans – a soldier and a contractor – and a British soldier.
In October, the US threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad unless the attacks stopped.
The Iraqi government facilitated an indefinite truce with hardline groups and the fire had come to a near halt.
But there have been violations, the most recent of which had been a spray of rockets targeting the US embassy on December 20.
President Donald Trump vowed to strike Iran if any such attack took place again, tweeting: ‘Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch. Guess where they were from: IRAN. Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq… Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.’
Erbil has been targeted very rarely, although Iranian forces fired missiles at the same airport in January 2020, a few days after Soleimani’s assassination.
On Monday evening, a volley of 107mm rockets – the same size used in previous pro-Iran attacks – were fired from around five miles west of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.
They appeared to be targeted at the coalition military complex at the airport, where the highest concentration of America’s remaining 2,500 troops in the war-ravaged country are stationed.
But most of the rockets missed and struck all across the northwest of the city, including in residential neighbourhoods where they wounded at least five civilians.
Coalition spokesman Wayne Marotto said three rockets hit the airport, killing one foreign civilian contractor who is not an American national.
Another nine people were wounded, including eight civilian contractors and one US soldier, he said.
Following the attack, security forces deployed around the airport and helicopters could be heard on the city’s edges.
Awliyaa al-Dam or Guardians of Blood are one of a number of around a dozen groups which have cropped up in the last year claiming rocket attacks.
But US and Iraqi security officials believe them to be front groups for prominent pro-Iran factions including Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
The groups demand the full withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and some have said that they are seeking revenge for Soleimani’s slaying and the Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes killed alongside him.
One of the factions is even dubbed Lewaa Thaar al-Muhandis or al-Mohandes’s Revenge Brigade and it has claimed at least two attacks on US properties.
Experts believe the groups have no distinguishable command structures so that they can have plausible deniability and Iran can attack the US through proxies.
Former president Trump took America to the brink of war with Iran last year when he ordered the assassination of Iran’s top commander Soleimani.
Washington blamed Iran-backed militia for a rocket attack that had killed a US civilian contractor the month before.
Three days before Soleimani’s assassination thousands of pro-Iranian militants stormed the US embassy in Baghdad.
The US has since slashed the number of troops in Iraq, from 5,200 to 2,500, as they continue training Baghdad’s forces in the fight against ISIS.
Rocket attacks by pro-Iran militia have continued despite promises by the government in Baghdad to get a grip of Tehran’s factions within its borders.
Iran has ramped up its arming of the militants in response to Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign and the latest assault is the first warning shot to the Biden administration.
Late Monday, Secretary of State Blinken said he was ‘outraged’ by the attack and pledged US support in holding those responsible to account.
‘I have reached out to Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to discuss the incident and to pledge our support for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible,’ he said.
Barzani had earlier condemned the attack ‘in the strongest terms,’ while Iraqi President Barham Saleh called it a ‘dangerous escalation and a criminal terrorist act’.
People stand next to a roof damaged after a rocket attack on U.S.-led forces in and near Erbil International Airport last night
A damaged wall is seen after last night’s rocket attack
Western military and diplomatic facilities have been targeted by dozens of rockets and roadside bombs since late 2019, but most of the attacks have been on Baghdad, not Erbil.
Several of the attacks have been deadly, with both foreign and Iraqi personnel killed.
Iraqi and US security officials have blamed hardline pro-Iran factions, including Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, who are both vehemently opposed to the US presence in Iraq.
Authorities have struggled to hold them to account.
Last year, an attempt by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi to arrest more than a dozen members of Kataeb Hezbollah accused of rocket attacks ended in the swift release of all but one of the fighters.
Instead, Trump ordered several rounds of bombing raids on Kataeb Hezbollah in response to the deaths of US service members.
Before leaving office in January, Trump had threatened that any further fatal attacks would prompt a mass bombing campaign, with Iraqi sources claiming that more than 100 sites would be targeted.
People inspect the area where one of the fired rockets landed on Monday night. Five Iraqi civilians were injured in the attack
Iraqi and even US officials have told AFP in recent weeks that it was not clear whether the new administration under President Joe Biden would pursue the same ‘tripwire.’
Since Iraq declared victory against the Islamic State group in late 2017, the coalition presence has been reduced to fewer than 3,500 troops, 2,500 of them American.
Most are concentrated at the military complex at Erbil airport.
Erbil has been targeted very rarely, although Iranian forces fired missiles at the same airport in January last year, a few days after Washington assassinated prominent Iranian general Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad airport.
Both Iran and hardline Iraqi armed groups have repeatedly pledged to take revenge for Soleimani’s killing.
The same groups have recently vowed to boost their military activity in the Kurdistan region, apparently against a Turkish incursion.
ESCALATING TENSIONS BETWEEN THE US AND IRAN
May 2018: Trump withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal which was drawn up in 2015 under President Obama.
August 2018: The Trump Administration imposes first round of sanctions, prohibit trade with a number of business sectors
November 2018: The Trump Administrations imposes a second round of sanctions which target oil and banking industries. The sanctions have a crippling effect on the Iranian economy
April 2019: Trump designates one arm of the Iranian military as a ‘terrorist group’ – an inflammatory move that prompts the Iran to hit back and call the US a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’
Iraqi security forces deploy during the second day of protests at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, in December 2019
Under siege: US soldiers keep watch on the US embassy in Baghdad from an observation post in December 2019
May 2019: Four tankers – including two belonging to US ally Saudi Arabia – are struck and damaged in the Gulf of Oman. The US blames Iran for the attack
May 2019: A rocket lands near the US embassy in Baghdad, prompting Trump to tweet ‘If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!’
June 2019: Iran shoots down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. An enraged Trump who considers launching airstrikes in retaliation
July 2019: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said that if any more American drones violated Iranian airspace ‘then they will receive the same response’ as the one that was blasted out of the sky the previous month
July 2019: Additional troops and fighter jets are put in place in the Middle East ‘to defend American forces and interests’ amid escalating tension
September 2019: Iran is blamed for an attack on two Saudi oil fields responsible for five percent of the global oil supply – or about 5.7 million barrels per day. Secretary of State Pompeo described the attack as ‘an act of war’
September 2019: US national security officials reportedly presented President Trump with a ‘menu’ of options that include military strikes and cyber attacks
November 2019: Rocket attacks increase on Iraqi military bases which are hosting American service personnel. Intelligence officials believe Hezbollah is behind the attacks
December 2019: Thousands of pro-Iranian militia men storm the US embassy in Baghdad.
January 2020: Trump orders a Reaper Drone strike which obliterates top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani outside the airport in Baghdad.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Lieutenant general and commander of the Quds Force Qassem Soleimani was slaughtered in a US Reaper drone strike in January 2020
Iran vows revenge for the killing and rockets strikes are launched by pro-Iranian factions against US bases in Iraq.
Two British warships are ordered to escort UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz.
March 2020: Another rocket strike in Iraq kills two Americans – a soldier and a contractor – and a British soldier.
April 2020: Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami says he has ordered Tehran’s naval forces to destroy any US warships that threaten the ‘security’ of Iranian vessels, after Trump said he had told the US Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea.
October 2020: US threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad unless the attacks stopped.
December 2020: Spray of rockets are launched at the US embassy. Trump vows that if one American is killed he will launch a massive bombing campaign.
January 2021: Iran seizes a South Korean-flagged tanker in the Gulf, the first such seizure in more than a year.
It comes amid Iranian pressure on Seoul to release $7billion in Iranian oil funds that are frozen because of US sanctions.
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