Iran’s foreign minister on Sunday stressed that Iran-Iraq relations would not be “shaken” ahead of the Iraqi prime minister’s planned visit this week to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival.
Several hours after Mohammad Javad Zarif landed in Baghdad, three mortars struck near the U.S. Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone without causing any losses, according two security officials. The Green Zone is the seat of Iraq’s government and home to many foreign embassies. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Zarif’s visit to Iraq was the first since the American assassination of top Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani outside Baghdad’s international airport in January. The drone strike catapulted Iraq to the brink of a U.S.-Iran proxy war that could have destabilized the Middle East.
The visit also came as the Iraqi government tussles with Iran-backed militia groups, some of which have become increasingly difficult to control in the absence of Soleimani and senior Iranian militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also killed in the strike. In late June, Iraq raided the headquarters of the Iran-backed group Kataib Hezbollah over a spate of rocket and mortar attacks targeting the U.S. installations in Iraq. Most of the fighters were later released.
Facing near-weekly rocket attacks, the U.S. Embassy recently installed C-RAM defense systems. It was unclear if the system was operational during the attack Sunday afternoon. The daytime attack was unusual; most have occurred after nightfall. The U.S. has blamed Kataib Hezbollah for previous attacks.
Upon his arrival, Zarif paid a visit to the site where Soleimani was killed, saying “Iran-Iraq relations will not be shaken” despite the general’s death, which Zarif called “a major loss” in the fight against the Islamic State group. Soleimani led Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force and was the architect of its regional military activities.—AP