A U.S. diplomatic outpost and major regional airport near the southwest Iraqi city of Basra was the target of a rocket attack early Friday morning, amid continuing violent civil unrest in the oil-rich city.
Eyewitnesses in the Abusheir district, north of of the city, told CNN that two rockets were fired toward the secure compound at Basra airport, where the U.S. consulate was located, in the early hours of Friday morning. Witnesses report the rockets fell outside the outer security perimeter of the compound, with no casualties coming from the attack.
A State Department spokesperson told CNN that no consulate staff were harmed during the incident and the consulate itself was not hit, adding that U.S. diplomats in Baghdad and Washington were continuing to monitor the situation.
Beginning in July, hundreds of protesters have descended on city of Basra, demanding much-needed government services and lambasting the rampant corruption they say plagues the regime of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Basra is one of the top two sources of petroleum revenues for Baghdad, second only to oil-rick Kirkuk in Northern Iraq, with the port city reportedly shipping three million barrels of Iraqi oil to global markets on a daily basis.
In an attempt to quell the violence in Basra and the surrounding areas such as Amara, Nasiriya and Najaf, Mr. Abadi ordered units from the Iraqi Army Ninth Division and its vaunted counterterrorism forces into the region to restore order. The Iraqi leader also made the controversial decision to cut all Internet access in Baghdad, to keep protest organizers from rallying more followers to their cause, according to local reports.
Mr. Abadi’s seemingly heavy-handed tactics to put down the protests in Basra may further destabilize his fractious political coalition, given the Shia-majority areas affected by his crackdown. Iraqis in those cities, especially the holy Shia city of Najaf, will be critical to the emerging Shia political coalition, led by firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.