Iran says missile attack on Israeli site of Erbil in Iraq targeted

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Erbil, Iraq: Iran claimed responsibility for a missile strike Sunday on the city of Erbil in northern Iraq, saying it targeted an Israeli “strategic center”.

Authorities in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq previously said 12 ballistic missiles fell on Erbil in a pre-dawn attack targeting US interests that lightly injured two civilians and caused property damage.

The missiles came from beyond Iraq’s eastern border, Kurdistan’s counter-terror unit said – claiming in effect they were fired from Iran, a country that wields political and economic influence considerable in Baghdad.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards later confirmed they fired the projectiles, saying they targeted sites used by Israel, a prominent US ally.

A “strategic center of Zionist conspiracy and mischief has been targeted by powerful precision missiles fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” the Guards said in a statement.

Sunday’s assault comes nearly a week after the Guardians – Iran’s ideological army – vowed to avenge the deaths of two of their officers killed in a rocket attack in Syria they blamed to Israel. Iran supports the government in the civil war in Syria.

Israel, the Guardians said at the time, “will pay for this crime.”

There was no immediate reaction from Israel to Sunday’s missile attack and Kurdish authorities insisted the Jewish state had no sites in or near Erbil.

Kurdish authorities said the target of the attack was the US consulate in Erbil.

“Unsubstantiated allegations”

Erbil Governor Oumid Khouchnaw told a press conference that two people, a taxi driver and a farm guard, were injured.

Speaking before Iran claimed responsibility for the attack, however, he called “baseless allegations” of the presence of Israeli sites in and around Erbil.

“We have been hearing for some time that Israeli sites are present. These are baseless allegations. There are no Israeli sites in the area,” Khouchnaw said.

He said the missiles fell in vacant lots but buildings and homes were damaged.

The Interior Ministry in Erbil said a “new building” housing the US consulate in a residential suburb of the city was the target of the attack.

Washington, an enemy of Iran with troops on the ground in Iraq, said there was “no damage or casualties at any US government facility”.

“We condemn this outrageous attack and display of violence,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Taxi driver Ziryan Wazir said he was in his car when the missiles hit.

“I saw a lot of dust, then I heard a very loud noise. My car windows shattered and I was injured in the face,’ he said, his head wrapped in white gauze and a bloody scar running the length of his cheek.

The local television channel Kurdistan24, located near the US consulate, posted on social media images of its damaged offices, with collapsed false ceilings and shards of glass.

An AFP correspondent in Erbil said he heard three explosions before dawn.

Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, is home to a dwindling number of American soldiers who led a coalition fighting the jihadist group Islamic State.

Washington has regularly blamed rocket and drone attacks on its interests in Iraq on pro-Iranian groups demanding the departure of the remaining troops.

But cross-border missile launches are rare.

Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, denounced the “terrorist attack” in Erbil and appealed for calm.

Iraq saw an upsurge in rocket attacks and armed drones earlier this year.

It coincided with the second anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport.

Soleimani, killed alongside his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, led the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations branch.

In late January, six rockets were fired at Baghdad International Airport, causing no casualties.

Iran itself responded to Soleimani’s killing in January 2020 by firing missiles at military bases in Iraq housing US forces.

Sunday’s assault also comes amid a pause in negotiations between Iran and world powers to revive its 2015 nuclear deal.

Negotiators in Vienna said on Friday they had halted talks as they nearly reached an agreement to revive that deal.

The setback came after Russia said it demanded guarantees that Western sanctions imposed on its own economy over the conflict in Ukraine would not affect its trade with Iran.

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