BAGHDAD — A volley of rockets struck a sprawling military base north of Baghdad on Wednesday evening, killing three service members, two of them Americans and one British, according to a United States official and an Iraqi military officer, both in Iraq.
The attack came less than three months after a similar rocket attack killed an American contractor in Iraq, setting off a spiral of attacks that nearly led to war between the United States and Iran.
The two Americans killed Wednesday were active-duty troops with the Army and Air Force, an American military official said. The official said that 12 members of the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq of various nationalities were wounded in the attack on the base, Camp Taji.
The White House and Pentagon had no immediate comment on the rocket attacks.
A senior Trump administration official said that senior national security aides were closely following the situation but declined to comment further until a more detailed assessment of what happened and who was responsible was available.
A British defense spokesman confirmed “an incident involving U.K. service personnel” but declined to comment further.
The American military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the attack was under investigation, said that 30 107-mm Katyusha rockets were fired at the base from improvised truck launchers. Of those, 18 landed on Camp Taji.
Iraqi forces found a rocket-rigged truck a few miles from Camp Taji, the American military said in a statement.
The names of the victims were not released pending notification of their families.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility and American officials said Wednesday night that they were still assessing who carried out the attack.
After the rocket attack that killed the American contractor in December, the United States blamed Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia with ties to Iran, and bombed five of its bases.
The American retaliation led to a siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and then an American drone attack that killed the leader of Iran’s elite Quds force, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The cycle of attacks and counterattacks ended more than two weeks later after Iran launched 16 cruise missiles at bases in Iraq that house American forces. No one was killed by the Iranian missile attacks and tensions had appeared to subside.
An Iraqi military official said that hours after the attack Wednesday, the American-led coalition responded with airstrikes on camps used by Kataib Hezbollah near Abu Kamal in Syria, just across the border from al-Qaim, Iraq.
However American officials said the United States had not carried out those strikes.
About 10 days ago, the leader of Kataib Hezbollah renewed threats against American installations in Iraq and against any Iraqis who work with the Americans, noting that while the pro-Iranian armed groups had been restrained, that would end in mid-March.
The U.S. military official said that since Soleimani’s death, American and coalition forces at Iraqi bases had come under a small but growing number of rocket attacks, perhaps a dozen in all. Most of the rocket strikes had been ineffective, but at least one caused minor casualties at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the official said.
Camp Taji is an Iraqi base just north of Baghdad that hosts members of the American-led coalition. The coalition’s main goal is to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State, the terrorist group that controlled territory in Iraq and Syria until early last year.
The Islamic State has been reconstituting its ranks in porous and ungoverned areas of Iraq and Syria, according to Iraqi and American intelligence officials.
On Sunday, two Marine Raiders, members of a Special Operations branch of the U.S. Marines, were killed during an operation against Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq. They were the first American troops killed in Iraq since last August.
The presence of U.S. forces at Iraqi bases has made them targets of Iranian proxy forces that have occasionally fired rockets at the bases as tensions have increased between the United States and Iran.
After the American airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah in December and the subsequent U.S. drone attack that killed Soleimani at the Baghdad airport, the Iraqi government accused the United States of violating the country’s sovereignty, and Iraq’s Parliament voted to expel American forces, roughly 5,200 troops, from the country.
The expulsion never happened, however, and after a 10-day pause in January, the United States and Iraq resumed joint operations against the Islamic State group.
U.S. officials also began negotiations with the Iraqi government to deploy Patriot missile systems around American bases that were deemed susceptible to possible attack from Iran.
On Tuesday, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told lawmakers that the Patriot missiles were on their way to Iraq.
Though the Patriots are capable of countering highflying Iranian ballistic missiles, they would be ineffective in stopping the kind of rockets fired at Camp Taji on Wednesday.
Iraq’s own situation has become more complicated in recent weeks.
If anything, it is even more fragile, with the fight against the coronavirus taking a heavy toll on the country at a time that its oil industry, its main source of revenue, is under extraordinary stress from plummeting oil prices.
This situation makes it more difficult for the United States to gauge how Iraq will respond if the United States and Iran ramp up tensions.