Iran admits missile attack near US consulate in Iraq

View of a damaged building in the aftermath of missile attacks in Erbil, Iraq March 13, 2022. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
View of a damaged building in the aftermath of missile attacks in Erbil, Iraq March 13, 2022. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

Iran's Revolutionary Guards claimed responsibility for a dozen ballistic missiles that struck Iraq's northern Kurdish regional capital of Erbil in the early hours of Sunday

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Iran has claimed responsibility for a missile barrage that struck near a sprawling US consulate complex in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil on Sunday, saying it was in retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard.

No injuries were reported in the attack, which marked a significant escalation in hostilities between the US and Iran that have often played out in Iraq, whose government is allied with both countries.

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said on its website that it launched the attack against an Israeli “strategic centre of conspiracy” in Erbil. It did not elaborate, but in a statement said Israel had itself been on the offensive, citing a recent strike that killed two Revolutionary Guards.

Earlier, a US defence official and Iraqi security officials said the strike was launched from neighbouring Iran.

One Iraqi official in Baghdad initially said several missiles had hit the US consulate in Erbil and that it was the target of the attack.

Later, Lawk Ghafari, the head of Kurdistan’s foreign media office, said none of the missiles had struck the US facility but that areas around the compound had been hit.

A statement issued by the interior ministry of Iraq’s Kurdistan region said the missiles were launched from outside Iraq, from the east, without naming Iran.

The US defence official said it was still uncertain exactly how many missiles were fired and exactly where they landed. A second US official said there was no damage to any US government facility and there was no indication that the target was the consulate building, which is new and currently unoccupied.

Satellite broadcast channel Kurdistan24, which is located near the US consulate, went on air shortly after the attack, showing shattered glass and debris on its studio floor.

The attack came several days after Iran said it would retaliate for an Israeli strike near Damascus in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard.

On Sunday, Iran’s state-run Irna news agency quoted Iraqi media acknowledging the attacks in Erbil, without saying where they originated.

The missile barrage coincided with regional tensions.

Negotiations in Vienna over Tehran’s nuclear deal hit a “pause” amid Russian demands on sanctions targeting Moscow over its war on Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Iran suspended its secret Baghdad-brokered talks aimed at defusing years-long tensions with regional rival Saudi Arabia, after Saudi Arabia carried out its largest known mass execution in its modern history with more than three dozens Shiites killed.

The Iraqi security officials said there were no casualties from the Erbil attack, which they said occurred after midnight and caused material damage in the area.

One of the Iraqi officials said the ballistic missiles were fired from Iran, without elaborating. He said the projectiles were the Iranian-made Fateh-110, likely to have been fired in retaliation for the two Revolutionary Guards killed in Syria.

Another American official said in a statement that the US condemned what it called an “outrageous attack against Iraqi sovereignty and display of violence”.

US forces stationed at Erbil’s airport compound have come under fire from rocket and drone attacks in the past, with American officials blaming Iran-backed groups.

The top US commander for the Middle East has repeatedly warned about the increasing threats of attacks from Iran and Iranian-backed militias on troops and allies in Iraq and Syria.

In an interview with the Associated Press in December, Marine General Frank McKenzie said that, while US forces in Iraq have moved to a non-combat role, Iran and its proxies still want all American troops to leave the country. As a result, he said, that may trigger more attacks.

The Biden administration decided last July to end the US combat mission in Iraq by December 31, and American forces gradually moved to an advisory role last year. The troops will still provide air support and other military aid for Iraq’s fight against the so-called Islamic State.

The US presence in Iraq has long been a flashpoint for Tehran, but tensions rose after a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January 2020 killed a top Iranian general.

In retaliation, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at al-Asad air base, where US troops were stationed. More than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in the blasts.

More recently, Iranian proxies are believed to have been responsible for an assassination attempt late last year on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

And officials have said they believe Iran was behind a drone attack last October at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based. No US personnel were killed or injured in the attack.

Mr al-Kadhimi tweeted: “The aggression which targeted the dear city of Erbil and spread fear amongst its inhabitants is an attack on the security of our people.”

Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdish-controlled region, condemned the attack, saying in a Facebook post that Erbil “will not bow to the cowards who carried out the terrorist attack”.