The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has announced it will deploy missile defence systems in Iraq over fears of further Iranian retaliatory attacks following the assassination by America of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani earlier in the year.
CENTCOM head, US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday: "We are also in the process of bringing air defence systems, ballistic missile defence systems, into Iraq in particular, to protect ourselves against another potential Iranian attack."
On 8 January, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) carried out a series of ballistic missile strikes against the Ain Al-Assad Airbase which hosts mostly US forces located in the western Anbar province, and another US base in the northern Iraqi Kurdistan region. This came days after the US targeted Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad airport.
Last month, the US Defence Department revealed that over 100 US forces had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries following the attack on the bases. A spokesman for the IRGC said last month that what Washington claims to be related to brain injuries from the strikes was actually "a metaphor for dead US troops." US President Donald Trump was accused of downplaying the seriousness having initially denied there were any injured US personnel.
"We conclude that what the United States announces to be related to brain injuries from the attack on Ayn al-Asad to be a metaphor for dead US troops," Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif wrote for the Iranian daily Vatan-e-Emrooz. Iranian media has consistently asserted that there were US fatalities following the attack, with the IRGC claiming at least 80 US servicemen had died and 200 were injured, not long after details of the attack were reported.
Since the Iranian missile strikes, the US has been negotiating with Baghdad to bring air defence systems – such as the Patriot – into the country. According to Stars and Stripes, Pentagon officials have cited turmoil within the Iraqi government and logistical challenges as a reason for the delayed move.
McKenzie was not asked by US lawmakers to elaborate further on his announcement and he did not provide specific information as to when or where the missile systems would be placed in Iraq.
However, according to Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, even if such weapons were present at the time of the Iranian attack, they would not have guaranteed the protection of the base, "That's what they're designed to do. Can't say for certain, obviously [that they would have succeeded]".
Notably the Patriot defence systems failed to protect Saudi Arabian oil facilities during the 14 September attack last year, claimed by Yemen's Houthis but blamed on Iran. Foreign Policy described the Patriot as "a lemon of a missile defense system" over the incident.