Drone attack targets Iraq's Erbil airport in 'grand escalation'

Drone attack targets Iraqi Kurdistan's Erbil airport in 'grand escalation' of strikes on US troops
2 min read
The use of a drone marks an unprecedented escalation of the arms used to target US soldiers based in Erbil.
Dozens of attacks have targeted US forces in Iraq since January [Getty]

Rocket fire targeted an airport where US soldiers are based in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, on Wednesday evening, Kurdish officials said.

The Kurdish interior ministry said the attack was carried out by drone, marking an unprecedented escalation of the arms used to target US soldiers based there.

"It caused no casualties or damage," Erbil governor Omed Khoshnaw told the official Iraqi news agency, after a statement by the Kurds' official counter-terror branch flagged the rocket attack.

A security cordon blocked all access to the airport, witnesses reported. The governor said air links were not interrupted.

Some 20 bomb or rocket attacks have targeted bases housing US soldiers or diplomats in Iraq since US President Joe Biden took office at the end of January. 

Dozens more took place during the preceding 18 months, with Washington consistently blaming pro-Iran armed factions.

Washington and Tehran are both allies of Baghdad, but remain sharply at odds over Iran's nuclear programme.

Former Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, a prominent political figure in Kurdistan, accused "a militia" of being behind the attack on Wednesday. "It is a grand & regional escalation," he wrote on Twitter.

On February 15, more than a dozen rockets targeted a military complex inside Erbil airport, killing an Iraqi civilian and a foreign contractor working with US-led troops.

The complex hosts foreign troops deployed as part of a US-led coalition helping Iraq fight the Islamic State group, a fight that Baghdad declared as won in late 2017.

A shadowy group calling itself Awliyaa al-Dam (Guardians of Blood) claimed the February attack in Erbil and in a follow-up statement vowed to keep targeting US forces in Iraq.

The interior ministry of Kurdistan, a region which has been autonomous since 1991 and has a population of five million, said it was immediately opening an investigation into Wednesday's rocket attack.

Counter-terrorism officials said only one rocket hit the airport on this occasion.

But an Iraqi security source told AFP that other rockets had crashed in the vicinity, one of them targeting Turkish troops.

The United States last week committed to move all remaining combat forces from Iraq, although the two countries did not set a timeline in what would be the second withdrawal since the 2003 invasion.

The announcement came as the Biden administration resumed a "strategic dialogue" with the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who is seen as too close to Washington by Iraq's powerful pro-Iranian factions.

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