BAGHDAD (MCT) A barrage of rocket fire struck Baghdad's fortified Green Zone on Saturday, in what appeared to be a snub to the cease-fire extension announced the previous day by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
Six rockets exploded around 6:15 a.m., causing no casualties, in the worst assault in several weeks on the walled zone housing the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government, according to the U.S. military.
The attack came as Turkey pressed its offensive against Kurdish militants in the remote, snowbound mountains of northern Iraq, saying that 79 rebels had been killed since Turkish troops entered the region late Thursday. Seven Turkish soldiers also have been killed so far, the Turkish army said.
The Green Zone attack was the fourth this week involving rockets or mortars fired at U.S. installations in Baghdad, and those earlier attacks, along with others in the past, were blamed by the U.S. military on breakaway Shiite factions backed by Iran.
Although the military did not make any accusations in this latest incident, the volley of missiles reverberated around central Baghdad less than 24 hours after al-Sadr had ordered his Mahdi Army militia to extend a cease-fire declared last August for another six months.
The cease-fire is widely credited with having helped reduce violence in Baghdad, including the frequency of mortar or rocket attacks in the Green Zone. But U.S. officials have pointed to a recent increase in activity by Iranian-backed Shiite extremists who have not heeded al-Sadr's order to his Mahdi Army militia to "freeze" its military activities.
Although mortars have been used in many previous attacks on the Green Zone, a U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that all the projectiles that crashed into the zone Saturday were rockets, which are potentially more accurate and can be fired from a greater distance.
The Turkish incursion has so far been confined to areas of the rugged, sparsely populated mountains of Iraq's Kurdistan region, which is controlled by militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, who maintain bases that Turkey says are used to launch terrorist attacks.
But Iraqi officials warned Saturday that Turkey should quickly conclude its military operations or risk destabilizing the region.
"This is a limited military incursion into a remote, isolated and uninhabited region," Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told the British Broadcasting Corp.
"But if it goes on, I think it could destabilize the region, because really one mistake could lead to further escalation."