US blames Iran for attack near its compound in Irbil, Tehran denies involvement

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By AP  with Euronews
The launch of the Fateh-110 short-range surface-to-surface missile by Iranian armed forces, at an undisclosed location in August 2010
The launch of the Fateh-110 short-range surface-to-surface missile by Iranian armed forces, at an undisclosed location in August 2010   -  Copyright  AP Photo

As many as 12 missiles struck near a sprawling US consulate complex in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on Sunday, in what the US and Iraqi officials said was a strike launched from neighbouring Iran.

No injuries were reported in the attack, which marked a significant escalation between the US and Iran. Hostility between the longtime foes has often played out in Iraq, whose government is allied with both countries.

An Iraqi official in Baghdad initially said several missiles had hit the US consulate in Irbil and that it was the target of the attack.

Later, Lawk Ghafari, the head of Kurdistan's foreign media office, said none of the missiles had struck the US facility but that areas around the compound had been hit.

The US defence official said it was still uncertain exactly how many missiles were fired and where they landed. A second official said there was no damage at any US government facility and that there was no indication the target was the consulate building, which is new and currently unoccupied. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Iran rejects accusations for attack

The attack came several days after Iran said it would retaliate for an Israeli strike near Damascus that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard.

On Sunday, Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iraqi media acknowledging the attacks in Irbil, without saying where they originated.

An Iranian spokesperson rejected the accusation that Iran was behind the Irbil attack. Mahmoud Abbaszadeh, Iran's parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy spokesman, said the allegation could not be confirmed so far.

"If Iran decides to take revenge […] it will be very, very serious, strong, obvious," he said in an interview with a local news website.

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 to defuse yearslong tensions with regional rival Saudi Arabia after it carried out the largest known mass execution in its modern history with over three dozen Shiites killed.

The Iraqi security officials said there were no casualties from the Irbil attack, which occurred after midnight and caused material damage in the area. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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

US presence in Iraq aggravates Tehran

US forces stationed at Irbil's airport compound have come under fire from rocket and drone attacks in the past.

Tensions spiked after a January 2020 US drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed a top Iranian general.

In retaliation, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at the al-Asad airbase, where US 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 US personnel were killed or injured in the attack.

Al-Kadhimi tweeted: "The aggression which targeted the dear city of Irbil 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 Irbil "will not bow to the cowards who carried out the terrorist attack."