Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Sunday claimed responsibility for a ballistic missile attack on Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, saying it was targeting an Israeli “strategic centre”.
Around a dozen missiles rained down on the city at 1am on Sunday morning. The target initially appeared to be the US consulate’s new building. Though neighbouring areas were struck, the attack seems to have only caused material damage.
The health minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government, Saman Barzanji, said there were no casualties.
The IRGC said that it targeted a “strategic centre for conspiracy and mischiefs of the Zionists was targeted by powerful precision missiles fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
Earlier this week, Iran said Israeli airstrikes in Syria had killed two Revolutionary Guard officers and vowed revenge.
“Any repetition of attacks by Israel will be met with a harsh, decisive, and destructive response,” the IRGC said in a statement on Sepah News, the Guards’ official website.
The Kurdistan Regional Council of Ministers condemned the attack, which, it said was launched “under the pretext of striking an Israeli base near the U.S. consulate in Erbil, but the target site was a civilian site, and this justification is aimed at concealing the motives of this heinous crime”.
The Iranian government-affiliated Iranian Students News Agency (INSA) quoted Sabereen News, an Iranian-backed Telegram channel close to Iraqi paramilitaries, as saying “two advanced Israeli Mossad training centres” were attacked.
Erbil’s governor denied the presence of Israeli units, calling such allegations “baseless”, local news agency Rudaw reported.
“We condemn this terrorist attack launched against several sectors of Erbil, we call on the inhabitants to remain calm,” Kurdistan Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said.
‘Erbil is under fire’
Kurdistan 24, a local news outlet, is based close to the new US consulate, and posted images of its damaged office after the blasts, with debris strewn across the newsroom.
Other images circulating on social media appear to show missiles striking the ground and causing explosions.
Cemal Batun, a presenter at Kurdistan 24, was in the channel’s cafeteria when rockets hit nearby.
CCTV footage shows him, wearing a suit, taking cover when the rockets hit.
“Six missiles were fired and we were in the middle of the broadcasting… This is a very aggressive action against democratic people and society,” Batun told Middle East Eye.
“It’s not only against a military party but against all of society, as a message that we can target you all the time. Kurdistan 24 might not be the main target, but in practice it has been one of the targets. Thank god, no one has been injured.”
Earlier on Sunday, Kurdish and US officials, speaking off the record, had suggested to media outlets that the missiles came from Iran. The Kurdish interior ministry said in a statement that the missiles were fired from outside Iraq’s eastern border.
Influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political movement won the October parliamentary elections, tweeted: “Erbil is under fire… as if Kurds were not Iraqis”.
A US State Department spokesperson called it an “outrageous attack”.
Erbil is the site of bases that host US forces, who have routinely been targeted by Iran-backed Iraqi factions in Iraq, particularly since Washington’s killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad airport in January 2020.
However, such raids appeared to have eased as political forces conducted ongoing negotiations to form a new government.
The vast majority of attacks against US forces in recent years have been launched using rockets or drones. Saturday’s attack is the first to use ballistic missiles since Iran staged a retaliatory attack on US bases in Iraq days after Soleimani’s killing.
Iran first used ballistic missiles in Iraq against Iranian Kurdish opposition parties in the Koya district in September 2018.
The strikes come at a tense time as Iran and the United States had recently appeared close to concluding an agreement to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, only for talks to be put on hold.
The United States’ recent seizure of Iranian oil cargoes and new Russian demands in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has been cited as reasons why the talks have faltered since Friday.