World News

Iraqi Green Zone attack suspects released

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and Iraqi forces detained three Iraqis after rocket attacks on Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone district during a trip by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the U.S. military said on Wednesday, but later released them.

Militants pounded the Green Zone with rockets and possibly mortar rounds on Tuesday shortly after Biden flew into Baghdad for talks with Iraqi politicians on reconciliation.

A Sunni Arab insurgent group called the Mujahideen Army, which has links to Islamist al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks in a statement issued on jihadist chat rooms, according to a report by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Iraqi police said there were four separate mortar attacks, one of which landed on an apartment block, killing two Iraqis and wounding five.

Two others landed near the U.S. embassy, but there were no reports of casualties. The Mujahideen Army said it fired rockets, not mortars.

A press briefing with U.S. ambassador Chris Hill and U.S. military commander General Ray Odierno was repeatedly interrupted by the explosions.

The U.S. military said in a statement its forces, working with soldiers from an Iraqi army division, located the suspected launch site but were fired upon from a nearby house.

“As elements from the joint patrol maneuvered against the small arms fire, a second group captured three Iraqi males and three rocket rails believed to have been used in the attack,” the statement said.

But U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Philip Smith later said the three Iraqi men were questioned and then released.

Rocket and mortar attacks on the Green Zone, which used to be a more or less daily occurrence 18 months ago, have become relatively rare in recent months.

But incidents like Tuesday’s salvo and two truck bombs on August 19 that killed 95 people at the foreign and finance ministries underline how fragile those security gains are.

Biden was meeting Iraqi officials on Wednesday to urge them to take advantage of better security to make progress on long-standing disputes between Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’ite communities over land, oil and power.

Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Jon Hemming