News Briefs – May 20, 2020

Iraq military: Rocket hit Baghdad Green Zone, minor damages

A rocket struck Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government, early on May 19, according to an Iraqi military statement, the first attack on the area since a new prime minister was sworn in earlier this month.
The Katyusha rocket hit an empty house, causing minor damages. The Green Zone is where government buildings and foreign embassies are located. A preliminary investigation indicated the rocket was launched from the nearby Al-Idrisi neighborhood on Palestine Street, the statement said.
An Iraqi official said the rocket had struck near the U.S. Embassy, without elaborating. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Previous attacks have frequently targeted the U.S. presence in Iraq, including the embassy and Iraqi bases hosting American troops. The U.S. has blamed Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia group backed by Iran, of perpetrating the attacks.
The new administration of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who came to power earlier this month, is preparing for a strategic dialogue with Washington, expected to take place next month. The talks will touch on security and economic cooperation between both countries.
The issue of militias acting outside of state control is also expected to be on the agenda.
Al-Kadhimi’s government, meanwhile, is scrambling to address a severe financial crisis brought on by falling oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic. AP

Carrier sidelined by coronavirus heads back to sea this week

The USS Theodore Roosevelt will return to sea later this week, nearly two months after the ship was sidelined in Guam with a rapidly growing coronavirus outbreak, U.S. officials said as the crew finished final preparations to depart.
In an interview from the aircraft carrier, Navy Capt. Carlos Sardiello said May 18 the ship will sail with a scaled-back crew of about 3,000, leaving about 1,800 sailors on shore who are still in quarantine. Those include up to 14 sailors who recently tested positive again, just days after getting cleared to return to the carrier. The puzzling COVID-19 reappearance in the sailors adds to the difficulty in getting the ship’s crew healthy again, and fuels questions about the quality of the testing and just how long sailors may remain infected or contagious.
Sardiello would not discuss timelines or planned operations. But other U.S. officials said the ship is expected to leave in the next few days, and if all goes well it will conduct naval operations in the Pacific region for some period of time before heading home to San Diego. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.
Asked about the possibility the ship will be able to conduct missions after its two-month layoff in Guam, Sardiello expressed confidence. “Do I have a crystal ball? I do not. But I think we have set the conditions for a high probability of success, and we’re going to go to sea and do our mission,” he said.
Preparing to go back to sea has been an intense process, requiring sailors to go through mandated preparations and training to ensure all the systems are working and that troops are ready despite the added requirements of masks, constant cleaning, social distancing and other virus-related restrictions. AP

Russia says it scales down war games amid pandemic

Russia’s foreign minister said May 19 that Moscow has scaled down its military drills amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sergey Lavrov said that the Russian military also has decided not to conduct any war games near the country’s borders with NATO member nations during the outbreak.
Russia-West relations have sunk to post-Cold War lows after the 2014 Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Moscow’s support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow has repeatedly voiced concern over the deployment of NATO forces in the Baltics, describing it as a threat to its security. Russia and the alliance also have blamed one another for conducting destabilizing military exercises near the borders. AP

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