Lockheed Martin contractors to leave Iraqi Balad airbase amid 'security threats': Source

Contractors “critical” to maintaining Iraq's F-16 program left Balad airbase in March due to security threats but some returned shortly after. Now, many of them are set to leave again, a source told Kurdistan 24.
Balad Air Base. (Photo: Archive)
Balad Air Base. (Photo: Archive)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The departure of the US company Lockheed Martin from Iraq's Balad airbase is “imminent,” a security source told Kurdistan 24 on Sunday on the condition of anonymity. The move comes amid continued rocket attacks by suspected Iran-backed militias on Iraqi bases housing American troops and contractors.

Balad airbase, located in Salahuddin province, only hosts contractors from Lockheed Martin, who are “critical” to supporting Iraqi F-16 operations, Airforce Magazine reported Tuesday.

“These contractors were forced to leave in March due to security threats,” the magazine added, citing a quarterly report released May 4 by the Defense Department’s Lead Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve.

The IG report explained that “some contractors returned before the quarter concluded.”

Now, however, it seems Lockheed Martin is reversing course, preparing the “imminent departure” of hundreds of employees from Balad airbase, the security source told Kurdistan 24.

The source said the contractors are leaving because of “security threats” but did not  provide more details, noting further that “more than half of the contractors intend to evacuate from Balad airbase.”

Balad is about 65 kilometers to the north of Baghdad, and it is one of the largest air bases in the country, with an area of ​​25 square kilometers, and surrounded by a 20-kilometer perimeter fence.

Armed groups that Washington says are backed by Iran have frequently targeted Balad airbase with rockets.

Read More: Third Iraqi military base housing US troops targeted by rocket attack in 3 days

It is not known exactly how long the evacuation will take.

After the US assassination of Qassim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in January 2020, attacks on Iraqi bases hosting forces from the international coalition increased.

However, the Trump administration eventually responded with strong warnings to the Iraqi government and threats to the pro-Iranian militias carrying out the attacks.

Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in late September, if the Iraqi government did not act more decisively to stop the attacks, the US would close its embassy in Baghdad, while maintaining diplomatic operations in Erbil. Once that was done, and soft targets removed from Baghdad, the US would launch a massive assault on the militias responsible for the attacks.

Read More: Baghdad, both Iraqis and foreigners, roiled by US threats to close its embassy

The dramatic US threat soon had the desired effect, as the militias announced their “suspension” of attacks, after the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Fuad Hussein, visited Tehran, following Pompeo’s warning.

Indeed, the latest IG report, in fact, notes the significant decrease in militia attacks on US targets during the last quarter of 2020. Unfortunately, however, such attacks have resumed with the new US administration, as the IG report indicates.

Editing by Khrush Najari