Sunday, 28 February, 2021

Three Rockets Land in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan

Smoke rises over the Erbil after reports of mortar shells landing near Erbil airport in Iraq Smoke rises over the Erbil after reports of mortar shells landing near Erbil airport in Iraq
Adrian Cunningham | 16 February, 2021, 12:22

A civilian contractor has died, and a USA service member and five more contractors have been injured, in an incident on a base used by the US -led coalition in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.

The barrage of rockets hit in and near a military air base occupied by the US -led coalition at Erbil International Airport.

Rockets struck outside an airport near where US forces are based in northern Iraq late Monday, killing one USA -led coalition contractor and wounding at least eight other people, Iraqi security and coalition officials said, sparking fears of new hostilities.

At least two civilians were also wounded and material damage was caused to cars and other property, security officials said, without providing more details.

A previously obscure pro-Iranian group said it launched the strike. Tensions soared after a Washington-directed drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and powerful Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis a year ago.

In recent months, attacks targeting USA forces have become less frequent, but analysts and diplomats have suggested that Iran may now seek to test President Biden's administration in Washington. The U.S. under the previous Trump administration blamed Iran-backed groups for carrying out the attacks.

A USA 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.

The last deadly attack to target the coalition killed one British and two American personnel in March a year ago.

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The spokesman for the coalition in Iraq, Col. Wayne Marotto, tweeted that the incident was due to indirect fire, and that more information would follow.

At least three rockets hit areas between the civilian airport in the semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region and the nearby base hosting United States troops at 9:30 p.m. Reuters reporters heard several loud explosions and saw a fire break out near the airport.

The group claimed that it fired 24 rockets from an area 7 kilometers away from the US-occupied al-Tahrir military base, all of which hit their targets as the coalition air defenses failed to intercept the rockets. One U.S. service member was wounded, he said.

In a later statement, a little-known Shiite militant group calling itself the Guardians of Blood Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack. It provided no evidence for its claim.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said late Monday the United States was "outraged" by the attack.

"We are outraged by today's rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region", he said in a statement Monday evening, adding that in speaking with the Kurdish president, he had pledged U.S. support "for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible".

Groups that some Iraqi officials say have links with Iran have claimed a series of rocket and roadside bomb attacks against coalition forces, contractors working for the coalition and US installations - including the embassy in Baghdad - in recent months.