By Amina Ismail and John Davison
ERBIL, Iraq, March 13 (Reuters) – Iran attacked Iraq’s northern city of Erbil on Sunday with a dozen ballistic missiles in an unprecedented assault on the capital of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region that appeared to target the United States and its allies.
The missiles came down in areas near a new U.S. consulate building, according to Kurdish officials. U.S. officials said no Americans were hurt and nor were U.S. facilities hit. Kurdish authorities said only one civilian was hurt and no one killed.
Iranian state media said Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards Corps carried out the attack against Israeli “strategic centres” in Erbil, suggesting it was revenge for recent Israeli air strikes that killed Iranian military personnel in Syria.
The attack, in which huge blasts shook windows of homes in Erbil after midnight, was a rare publicly declared assault by Tehran against allies of Washington.
The last time Iran fired missiles directly at U.S. facilities was when it struck the Ain Al Asad air base in western Iraq in January 2020 – a retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.
Sunday’s attack comes as talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal face the prospect of collapse after a last-minute Russian demand forced world powers to pause negotiations for an undetermined time despite having a largely completed text.Read full story
It also comes days after Israel carried out an air raid in Syria which the IRGC said killed two of its members and for which it vowed retaliation.
‘RESPONSE TO ISRAEL’
The IRGC issued a statement about Sunday’s attack which was reported by Iranian state media.
“Any repetition of attacks by Israel will be met with a harsh, decisive and destructive response,” it said.
The Iraqi Kurdish regional government said the attack only targeted civilian residential areas, not sites belonging to foreign countries, and called on the international community to carry out an investigation.
Iraq’s foreign ministry summoned the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad in protest.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson called it an “outrageous attack” but said no Americans were hurt and there was no damage to U.S. government facilities in Erbil.
France’s foreign ministry said the move threatened efforts to conclude nuclear talks with Iran. Read full story
In another sign of derailing regional diplomacy, Iran said on Sunday it was suspending a fifth round of talks due this week in Baghdad with regional rival Saudi Arabia. Read full story
U.S. forces stationed in a section of the Erbil International Airport complex have in the past come under fire from rocket and drone attacks that Washington blames on Iran-aligned militia groups, but no such attacks have occurred for several months.
Asked about Sunday’s attack, Israel’s military said it did not comment on reports in the foreign press and the prime minister’s office declined to comment.
Iran has not fired ballistic missiles at U.S. forces since its January 2020 retaliation attack after the U.S. killing earlier that month of Soleimani at Baghdad airport. No U.S. personnel were killed in that attack but many suffered head injuries.
Iran-backed Shi’ite Islamist militias have since Soleimani’s death regularly attacked U.S. forces stationed in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Washington has on occasion retaliated with air strikes.
Some observers said Sunday’s attack was retaliation against Israel and not aimed at the United States.
“Iran had carried out attacks against American targets and did not shy away from publicizing this,” said Hamidreza Azizi, Visiting Fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
“I see this more as a warning sign to Israel and a show of force in the negotiations.”
Iraq has been rocked by chronic instability since the defeat of the Sunni Islamist group Islamic State in 2017 by a loose coalition of Iraqi, U.S.-led and Iran-backed forces.
Since then, Iran-aligned militias have regularly attacked U.S. military and diplomatic sites in Iraq, U.S. and many Iraqi officials say. Iran denies involvement in those attacks.
(Amina Ismail reported from Erbil, John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed reported from Baghdad; Additional reporting by Yasmin Hussein and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Phil Stewart in Washington, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Louise Heavens, Susan Fenton and Hugh Lawson)