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10 rockets fired at air base in Iraq that hosts U.S. troops

U.S. and coalition troops are pictured at the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq in 2018. File Photo by 1st Lt. Leland White/U.S. Army National Guard
U.S. and coalition troops are pictured at the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq in 2018. File Photo by 1st Lt. Leland White/U.S. Army National Guard

March 3 (UPI) -- Ten rockets were fired Wednesday at a military base in Iraq that hosts U.S. forces, the Defense Department said, ahead of a visit this week from Pope Francis.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the rockets landed at the Ain al-Asad air base early Wednesday. The base, which is located just north of Baghdad, hosts U.S., Iraqi and coalition troops.

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No U.S. service members died or sustained injuries in the attack, but a U.S. civilian contractor had a "cardiac episode" while sheltering and died, Kirby added.

"We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the individual who died," he said.

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U.S. Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, said the "indirect fire missiles" were lobbed at the base, which is located in Iraq's Al Anbar governorate and was formerly the second-largest U.S. military base in Iraq.

It wasn't immediately reported who fired the rockets, but officials said they didn't cause any significant losses.

For the past two years, U.S. forces in the region have consolidated troops due to consistent threats from Iranian-supported militias in Iraq.

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Pope Francis will begin a four-day tour in Iraq on Friday, his first since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The pontiff's trip is a show of support for Christians in Iraq and the pope said he hopes to promote dialogue there with Islamic leaders.

Wednesday's rocket attack came a week after U.S. forces fired precision-guided munitions at military facilities in Syria that were controlled by Iraqi paramilitary groups Kait'ib Hezbollah and Kait'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.

U.S. military officials said the strike, which destroyed nine facilities, was designed to sabotage the buildings so they can't be used in future attacks against U.S. and allied troops.

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The al-Asad air base was one of two Iraqi bases that were similarly attacked a year ago by Iranian missiles following the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. That attack injured dozens of U.S. troops.

Wednesday's was the second rocket attack in Iraq in the past month. A civilian contractor was killed and several were injured on Feb. 16 when rockets were fired at a base in Erbil.

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