Iraq: UN condemns deadly attack in Kurdistan

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Erbil | The UN warned on Tuesday that Iraq could plunge again into instability in the aftermath of a rocket attack on an air base hosting US forces that left one dead and several wounded Iraqis and foreigners in Kurdistan.

This is the first time in nearly two months that such fire has targeted Western military or diplomatic facilities in Iraq, the latest attack dating back to mid-December when rockets exploded near the US embassy in Baghdad.

On Twitter, the UN representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, denounced “hateful and dangerous acts” which “constitute a serious threat to stability”.

She called for “restraint” and cooperation between Erbil, capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan (north), and Baghdad on the investigation.

Airport closed

The attack appears to have targeted a military complex in Erbil airport where foreign troops are positioned as part of the international coalition led by the United States and which supports Iraq in its fight against the jihadists.

But rockets also landed on residential neighborhoods, according to the city’s health department, which reported five wounded civilians.

Coalition spokesman Colonel Wayne Marotto told AFP on Tuesday that three rockets hit the airport, killing a non-American foreign civilian employee.

Nine other people were injured, including eight civilian employees and a US serviceman, he said.

Erbil airport remained closed Tuesday morning, as authorities took stock of the damage, its chief Ahmad Hoshyar told AFP.

Monday evening, the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, said he was “outraged” by the attack, indicating that his country “would demand accountability” from its authors.

He further specified that he had contacted the Prime Minister of the Kurdish regional government, Masrour Barzani, to assure him of American support in the investigation into these shots.

Mr. Barzani condemned the attack “in the strongest terms” and Iraqi President Barham Saleh denounced on Twitter “a dangerous escalation”.

Two sources in the field of intelligence told AFP that the rockets had been launched from inside the autonomous region.

Pro-Iran factions?

The attack was claimed by a little-known group calling themselves Awliyaa al-Dam (“Guardians of the Blood”). Security officials told AFP they believed it was a cover name to actually hide known pro-Iran factions that want coalition forces out of the country.

Western military and diplomatic installations had been targeted in Iraq from the fall of 2019 by dozens of rockets, but most of these actions were carried out in Baghdad.

Iranian missiles were, however, fired at Erbil airport in January 2020, a few days after the elimination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by an American drone strike in Baghdad, an attack which had raised fears of a direct war between the Iran and the United States.

Rockets were then fired regularly at the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, with US and Iraqi officials blaming pro-Iran militias.

In October, Washington threatened to close its embassy if the attacks did not stop. After that, several pro-Iran Iraqi factions agreed to a negotiated truce under the aegis of the Iraqi government. The rocket fire had almost stopped.

Since Iraq declared victory over ISIS at the end of 2017, foreign troops have been reduced to 3,500 troops, including 2,500 Americans.

Almost all of these foreign units are stationed in the military complex at Erbil airport, according to a coalition source.