US condemns Iran for ‘reckless’ missile strikes on northern Iraq

Damaged building in Irbil, northern Iraq, following overnight Iranian ballistic missile strikes (16 January 2024)
Image caption,Authorities in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region said four people were killed in the overnight strikes

The US has condemned Iran over ballistic missile strikes on Iraq’s northern city of Irbil on Monday night, calling them “reckless and imprecise”.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they struck what they claimed were an Israeli “spy headquarters” in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region.

Four civilians were killed and six hurt in the attack, local authorities said.

Iraq recalled its ambassador from Tehran, condemning the strikes as a “blatant violation” of sovereignty.

There has been no comment from Israel.

The Revolutionary Guards also said they carried out missile strikes on “terrorist bases” in Syria in response to a recent suicide bombing in Iran claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

In a separate development on Tuesday morning, Kurdish counter-terrorism forces said they had shot three armed drones flying over Irbil’s airport, where US and international forces are stationed, Reuters news agency reported.

There was no immediate claim, but an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has said it was behind similar attacks.

The Iranian strikes come amid heightened tensions across the Middle East since the war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Iran-backed Palestinian group Hamas began on 7 October.

Iran has declared that it does not want to get involved in a wider conflict, but groups in its so-called “Axis of Resistance” have been carrying out attacks on Israel and its allies to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement has exchanged cross-border fire with Israeli forces; Shia militias have launched drones and missiles at US forces in Iraq and Syria; and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have attacked ships in the Red Sea.

Israel has reportedly carried out strikes that killed a Hamas leader in Lebanon and a Revolutionary Guards commander in Syria, while the US has killed an Iraqi militia leader in an air strike in Iraq and bombed Houthi targets in Yemen.

First responders search through the rubble of a damaged building in Irbil, northern Iraq, following overnight Iranian ballistic missile strikes (16 January 2024)
Image caption,Iraq’s government condemned Iran’s “aggression” on Irbil

The Kurdistan Region Security Council said multiple ballistic missiles launched by the Revolutionary Guards struck civilian-populated areas of Irbil around 23:30 local time (20:30 GMT) on Monday.

Local news outlet Rudaw reported that loud explosions shook the city and that several residential buildings on the road between Irbil and the north-eastern suburb of Pirmam were damaged heavily.

Peshraw Dizayee, a multimillionaire real estate magnate, was killed when a missile hit his home, the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party said.

An 11-month-old baby was also among the dead, according to Rudaw.

The Revolutionary Guards said in a statement that the missile strikes were a “response to the recent evil acts of the Zionist regime in martyring [Revolutionary Guards] and resistance commanders”.

The missiles “destroyed one of the main headquarters of Israel’s spy agency Mossad in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region”, which had been used to “develop espionage operations and plan acts of terrorism”, they claimed.

However, the Kurdistan Region Security Council said it categorically rejected “this unfounded pretext” and accused the Revolutionary Guards of frequently employing “baseless pretexts for assaulting Irbil” when it posed no threat.

The Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister, Masrour Barzani, condemned the “cowardly attack” and urged the federal government in Baghdad to “to take a principled position against the flagrant violation of Iraq’s and the Kurdistan Region’s sovereignty”.

The Iraqi foreign ministry said the government “strongly denounced the Iranian aggression on Irbil” and would “take all legal measures against it”, including filing a complaint to the UN Security Council. It also announced the formation of an investigative committee to “prove the falsity” of Iran’s claims.

Later, the ministry recalled the Iraqi ambassador from Tehran for consultations and summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in Baghdad to protest.

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