In mid-April, an drone targeted U.S.-led coalition forces near a northern Iraq airport, causing a large fire and damage to a building. There were no casualties.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The U.S. has blamed Iran-backed militia groups for previous attacks, most of them rockets that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad, the capital, and military bases across Iraq.
Overall attacks against coalition troops have been frequent since a U.S.-directed drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a nonbinding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.
The Biden administration has resumed strategic talks with Baghdad, initiated under President Donald Trump, in which the future of U.S. troop presence in Iraq is a central point of discussion. McKenzie and others have expressed optimism that the U.S. will maintain a military presence in the country
The militia groups, McKenzie said, are frustrated because there had been some hope that U.S. forces would leave Iraq, particularly in the wake of the Soleimani strike.
“They believe they can carry out attacks at a fairly low level that won’t provoke a response, yet will create enough friction that will eventually induce us to leave,” McKenzie told reporters traveling with him. “I think it’s a dangerous situation.”