US seeks Iraqi nod to bring in air defenses after Iran attack

Reuters – The United States is trying to secure permission from Iraq to take Patriot missile defenses into the country to better defend U.S. forces after Iran’s Jan. 8 missile attack, which wounded 50 American troops, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday.

The United States did not have Patriot air defenses deployed to al-Asad air base in Iraq, where at least 11 of Iran’s ballistic missiles struck, killing no one but triggering massive blasts that caused traumatic brain injury among U.S. forces.

“We need the permission of the Iraqis,” Esper told a news conference. He said securing their permission was one factor slowing the repositioning of the air defenses. He said the U.S. military was still deciding on more tactical issues, such as where best to place the defenses.

Tehran had been expected to retaliate against the United States over the killing of a top Iranian general, likely using ballistic missiles.

But in the days prior to the Iranian strikes, the Pentagon had expected Tehran more likely to target U.S. positions in countries other than Iraq, since Tehran counts influential allies in Baghdad.

The United States had moved Patriot batteries last year to Saudi Arabia, for example.

Thanks to U.S. intelligence, the Pentagon gained hours of warning time that allowed it to move troops to bunkers that were strong enough to prevent loss of life or limb when the Iranian missiles struck, U.S. officials say.

The bunkers were not designed to prevent the traumatic brain injuries from the massive blasts. The injuries so far have been categorized as “mild.”

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller