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Ballistic missiles have hit the Kurdish capital of Iraq, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have taken responsibility

Damaged office of Kurdistan 24 TV building after rocket attacks in Erbil
Workers clean the damaged office of the Kurdistan 24 TV building after rocket attacks in Erbil, Iraq March 13, 2022. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

March 13, 2022

By Amina Ismail

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claimed responsibility for a dozen ballistic missiles that struck Iraq’s northern Kurdistan regional capital, Erbil, in the early hours of Sunday, Iranian state media reported, adding that the attack was aimed at Israeli “strategic centers” was addressed to Erbil.

According to the Kurdish regional government, the rockets were aimed at the US consulate, among other places.

The missile strike comes as talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran teeter on the brink after a last-minute Russian demand forced world powers to pause negotiations indefinitely, despite a largely finished text.

The rockets, which were aimed at the new US consulate building and a neighboring residential area, only caused property damage and one civilian was injured, the Kurdish interior ministry said. An Iraqi security official told Reuters that the missiles were made in Iran.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards have released a statement claiming responsibility for the missile attack on Israeli “strategic centers” in Erbil, Iranian state media reported.

“Any repetition of attacks by Israel will be met with a harsh, determined and destructive response,” the Revolutionary Guard said in the statement.

A US official blamed Iran for the attack earlier Sunday but gave no further details.

A Kurdish spokesman for the regional authorities said Sunday’s attack only targeted civilian residential areas and not a foreign base, and called on the international community to conduct an investigation.

Separately, a US State Department spokesman called it an “outrageous attack” but said no Americans were injured and there was no damage to US government facilities in Erbil. US Ambassador to Iraq Mathew H. Tueller condemned the attack, saying, “Elements of the Iranian regime have claimed responsibility for this attack and must be held accountable.”

France’s foreign ministry said Sunday’s missile attack on Erbil threatened efforts to finalize nuclear talks with Iran.

US forces stationed at Erbil International Airport complex have in the past come under rocket and drone strikes that Washington attributes to Iran-affiliated militias, but there have been no such attacks for several months.

When asked about Sunday’s attack, the Israeli military said it had not commented on reports in the foreign press, and the prime minister’s office declined to comment.

In another sign of rising regional tensions, Iran on Sunday also suspended a fifth round of talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia, which were due to take place in Baghdad on Wednesday.

The last time ballistic missiles were aimed at US forces was in January 2020 — Iranian retaliation for the US assassination of their military commander, Qassem Soleimani, at Baghdad airport earlier this month.

No US personnel were killed in the 2020 attack, but many sustained head injuries.

Iraq and neighboring Syria are regular scenes of violence between the United States and Iran. Iran-backed Shia Islamist militias have attacked US forces in both countries, and Washington has occasionally retaliated with airstrikes.

Two members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria on Monday, Iranian state media said last week. The IRGC vowed retaliation, it said. Israel has not confirmed that it carried out the attack.

Analysts say Sunday’s attack was more in retaliation for last week’s Israeli airstrikes in Syria than an attack on the United States.

“Iran had carried out attacks on American targets and was not afraid to make this public,” said Hamidreza Azizi, Visiting Fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Policy.

“I see it more as a warning sign to Israel and as a show of power in the negotiations.”

A Kurdish spokesman for the regional authorities said there were no flight disruptions at Erbil Airport.

Erbil residents have posted videos online showing several large explosions, and some said the blasts shook their homes. Reuters could not independently verify these videos.

Iraq has been wracked by chronic instability since the defeat of the Sunni Islamist group Islamic State in 2017 at the hands of a loose coalition of Iraqi, US-led and Iran-backed forces.

Since then, Iran-aligned militias have regularly attacked US military and diplomatic sites in Iraq, US and many Iraqi officials say. Iran denies involvement in these attacks.

(Reporting by Iraq Bureau and Dubai Bureau; Additional reporting by Yasmin Hussein and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Phil Stewart in Washington, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Writing by Amina Ismail in Erbil and John Davison in Baghdad; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Louise Heavens and Suzanne Fenton)

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Bobby Allyn

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