Five Iraqi civilians were killed on Monday by rocket fire targeting Baghdad airport, where US troops are stationed, Iraqi officials said, days after the United States warned it would withdraw its diplomats Iraqi unless authorities rein in militia attacks.
Three children and two women from the same family died and two other children were wounded when a Katyusha rocket fell on their home, the army said. The incident was the deadliest yet in a series of attacks targeting American interests in the country.
On Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi in a phone call that the US would close its Baghdad embassy unless Iraq stopped Iran-backed militias from striking American installations, according to Iraqi officials.
A "strong and violent" response would follow against the groups responsible for the attacks, the Iraqi officials reported Mr Pompeo as saying .
Attacks on US targets in Iraq have increased since the United States killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in an audacious drone strike in Baghdad in January.
The capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone has been targeted in at least 19 rocket and mortar attacks this month, while convoys serving the US-led international coalition against Islamic State have been attacked two dozen times, most recently on Sunday when an improvised explosive device hit vehicles transporting military equipment in southern Iraq.
A roadside bomb targeted a British convoy in Baghdad this month, the first such attack against western diplomats in years, while a British soldier was killed alongside two Americans at camp Taiji north of Baghdad in March.
Since taking office in May, Mr Kadhimi has vowed to rein in rogue militias. He assumed the premiership with US support but his western ally is dissatisfied with his cautious approach to militias, many of which are backed by Iran.
As Mr Khadimi visited Washington last month, unknown gunmen carried out a string of attacks on Iraqi activists linked to the US consulate in Basra, which was widely interpreted as an attempt by militiamen to discredit the premier.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has adopted a “maximum pressure” strategy towards Iran and with up to 5,000 US soldiers remaining in Iraq, there are fears withdrawing diplomats could prefigure US military strikes on Iranian interests.
The Baghdad embassy is one of the largest American diplomatic missions worldwide and closing it would take months. The process could be halted if the US is satisfied with Iraq’s response.
“For now, gauging credibility of US threat to close embassy can’t be distinguished from a real threat or a bluff,” wrote Ramzy Mardini, a researcher on Iraq at the University of Chicago.