The United States has asked Iraq for permission to put Patriot missile systems at bases hosting US troops to improve defences against attacks like the January 8 Iranian missile attack that caused brain injuries to more than 50 US troops, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
“That is one of the matters we have to work on and work through” with the Baghdad government, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told a Pentagon news conference. He and Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made clear that they want Patriots in Iraq as part of an effort to improve the protection of US forces there.
The Iran attacks came after the US killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq less than a week earlier.
The commander responsible for US forces in Iraq “feels he needs” the Patriot defences, Esper said, and “we support the commander.” He did not say what reasons the Iraqi government may have given for not approving the US request thus far.
The US has about 5,000 troops in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi security forces in their fight against armed groups like ISIL (ISIS). The relationship is especially rocky in the aftermath of the US killing of Soleimani.
Milley said that in addition to securing Iraqi government permission, the US military needs to work through mechanical and logistical issues to move a Patriot battalion to Iraq. There was not already one there because US commanders judged that Iraq was a less-likely target for an Iranian ballistic missile attack than other Gulf countries.
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