Iran claims missile barrage near U. S. consulate in Iraq

Iraq's Foreign Ministry on Sunday summoned Iran's ambassador to protest the attack, calling it a flagrant violation of the country's sovereignty

March 14, 2022 01:49 pm | Updated 01:49 pm IST - Baghdad

A view of a damaged building in the aftermath of missile attacks in Erbil, Iraq on March 13.

A view of a damaged building in the aftermath of missile attacks in Erbil, Iraq on March 13. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Iran claimed responsibility on March 13 for a missile barrage that struck near a sprawling U. S. consulate complex in northern Iraq, saying it was retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard earlier this week.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry on Sunday summoned Iran's ambassador to protest the attack, calling it a flagrant violation of the country's sovereignty. No injuries were reported in Sunday's attack on the city of Erbil, which marked a significant escalation between the U. S. and Iran.

Hostility between the longtime foes has often played out in Iraq, whose government is allied with both th countries. The attack drew harsh condemnation from the Iraqi government, which called it a “violation of international law and norms” and demanded an explanation from the Iranian leadership.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad al-Sahhaf told The Associated Press that the Ministry summoned the Iranian ambassador, Iraj Masjedi, to deliver the diplomatic protest. The United States strongly condemned the strike and said it was an unjustified attack on a civilian residence.

“We will support the Government of Iraq in holding Iran accountable and we will support our partners throughout the Middle East in confronting similar threats from Iran,” the White House national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said in a statement. “The United States of America stands behind the full sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq.” No U. S. facilities were damaged or personnel injured, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington. “The U. S. had no indication that the attack was directed at the United States,” he said.

Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard said on its website that it attacked what it described as an Israeli spy centre in Erbil. It did not elaborate, but in a statement said Israel had been on the offensive, citing the recent strike that killed two members of the Revolutionary Guard.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying Iran fired 10 Fateh missiles, including several Fateh-110 missiles, which have a range of about 300km (186 miles).

The source claimed the attack resulted in multiple casualties. There was no immediate comment from Israel on the allegations or the Iranian missile barrage. An Iraqi official in Baghdad initially said several missiles had hit the U. S. consulate in Erbil, which is new and unoccupied, adding that it had been the intended target of the attack.

Later, Lawk Ghafari, the head of Kurdistan's foreign media office, said none of the missiles had struck the U. S. facility but that residential areas around the compound had been hit. Following a Cabinet meeting, the Iraqi government in Baghdad reiterated its refusal to allow Iraq to be used to settle scores between other countries and said it has requested an explanation from the Iranian leadership.

Satellite broadcast channel Kurdistan24, which is located near the U. S. consulate, went on air from their studio shortly after the attack, showing shattered glass and debris on their studio floor. The attack came several days after Iran said it would retaliate for an Israeli strike near Damascus, 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 tattered nuclear deal hit a “pause” over Russian demands about sanctions targeting Moscow for its war on Ukraine.

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

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. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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

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

The top U. S. 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 Gen. Frank McKenzie said that while the U. S. forces in Iraq have shifted 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 U. S. combat mission in Iraq by December and the U. S. 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 Islamic State.

The U. S. presence in Iraq has long been a flash point for Tehran, but tensions spiked after a January 2020 U. S. drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed a top Iranian general. In retaliation, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at al-Asad airbase, where U.S. troops were stationed. More than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in the blasts.

More recently, Iranian proxies are believed responsible for an assassination attempt late last year on Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. And officials have said they believe Iran was behind the October drone attack at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based. No U.S. personnel were killed or injured in the attack.

Mustafa 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. In a Facebook post, he said Erbil “will not bow to the cowards who carried out the terrorist attack.”

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