A rocket strike on a US-coalition base in Iraq by a group believed to have links to Iran has injured several Americans and killed a foreign contractor.
More than a dozen 107mm rockets were fired at the military complex in Erbil airport on Monday evening that has hosted troops deployed as part of the international alliance fighting ISIS since 2014.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was ‘outraged’ and vowed to ‘hold accountable those responsible’ without giving details on the wounded Americans.
The bombardment was claimed by a shadowy group calling itself ‘Guardians of Blood,’ which US forces believe is one of many which have sprung up in Iraq as fronts for pro-Iranian factions.
The United Nations warned today Iraq could spin out of control following the first attacks on Western forces in almost two months.
Monday’s attack will be the first big test of US President Joe Biden’s Middle East policies. His predecessor Donald Trump had threatened Iran that the killing of an American national in such a strike would prompt a mass bombing campaign.
A U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020 sent the region to the brink of a full-scale confrontation.
— Nafiseh Kohnavard (@nafisehkBBC) February 15, 2021
This morning, the United Nations’ top representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, slammed the attack.
‘Such heinous, reckless acts pose grave threats to stability,’ she posted on Twitter, calling for ‘restraint’ and cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil on a probe.
On Monday evening, a volley of 107mm rockets – the same size used in previous pro-Iran attacks – were fired from around five miles west of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.
They appeared to be targeted at the coalition military complex at the airport, where the highest concentration of America’s remaining 2,500 troops in the war-ravaged country are stationed.
But most of the rockets missed and struck all across the northwest of the city, including in residential neighbourhoods where they wounded at least five civilians.
Coalition spokesman Wayne Marotto said three rockets hit the airport, killing one foreign civilian contractor who is not an American national.
Another nine people were wounded, including eight civilian contractors and one US soldier, he said.
‘Awliyaa al-Dam’ or ‘Guardians of Blood’ are one of a number of around a dozen groups which have cropped up in the last year claiming rocket attacks.
But US and Iraqi security officials believe them to be front groups for prominent pro-Iran factions including Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
Following the attack, security forces deployed around the airport and helicopters could be heard on the city’s edges.
Former president Trump took America to the brink of war with Iran last year when he ordered the assassination of Iran’s top commander Soleimani.
Washington blamed Iran-backed militia for a rocket attack that had killed a US civilian contractor the month before.
Three days before Soleimani’s assassination thousands of pro-Iranian militants stormed the US embassy in Baghdad.
The US has since slashed the number of troops in Iraq, from 5,200 to 2,500, as they continue training Baghdad’s forces in the fight against ISIS.
Rocket attacks by pro-Iran militia have continued despite promises by the government in Baghdad to get a grip of Tehran’s factions within its borders.
Iran has ramped up its arming of the militants in response to Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign and the latest assault is the first warning shot to the Biden administration.
Late Monday, Secretary of State Blinken said he was ‘outraged’ by the attack and pledged US support in holding those responsible to account.
‘I have reached out to Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to discuss the incident and to pledge our support for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible,’ he said.
Barzani had earlier condemned the attack ‘in the strongest terms,’ while Iraqi President Barham Saleh called it a ‘dangerous escalation and a criminal terrorist act’.
Western military and diplomatic facilities have been targeted by dozens of rockets and roadside bombs since late 2019, but most of the attacks have been on Baghdad, not Erbil.
Several of the attacks have been deadly, with both foreign and Iraqi personnel killed.
Iraqi and US security officials have blamed hardline pro-Iran factions, including Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, who are both vehemently opposed to the US presence in Iraq.
Authorities have struggled to hold them to account.
Last year, an attempt by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi to arrest more than a dozen members of Kataeb Hezbollah accused of rocket attacks ended in the swift release of all but one of the fighters.
Instead, Trump ordered several rounds of bombing raids on Kataeb Hezbollah in response to the deaths of US service members.
Before leaving office in January, Trump had threatened that any further fatal attacks would prompt a mass bombing campaign, with Iraqi sources claiming that more than 100 sites would be targeted.
Iraqi and even US officials have told AFP in recent weeks that it was not clear whether the new administration under President Joe Biden would pursue the same ‘tripwire.’
Since Iraq declared victory against the Islamic State group in late 2017, the coalition presence has been reduced to fewer than 3,500 troops, 2,500 of them American.
Most are concentrated at the military complex at Erbil airport.
Erbil has been targeted very rarely, although Iranian forces fired missiles at the same airport in January last year, a few days after Washington assassinated prominent Iranian general Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad airport.
Both Iran and hardline Iraqi armed groups have repeatedly pledged to take revenge for Soleimani’s killing.
The same groups have recently vowed to boost their military activity in the Kurdistan region, apparently against a Turkish incursion.
Source » dailymail