Iran has confirmed it fired 12 missiles from its territory that fell near the newly-constructed US consulate in Erbil in northwestern Iraq on Saturday night.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) claimed responsibility for the attack on Sunday morning, and said it was a response to the “recent crimes of the fake Zionist regime.”
“Following the recent crimes of the fake Zionist regime and the previous announcement that the crimes and evils of this infamous regime will not go unanswered; the ‘Strategic Center of Conspiracy and Evil of the Zionists’ was targeted last night by powerful and point-to-point missiles of the IRGC,” said its statement.
Iran threatened retaliation in recent days for the deaths of two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week.
Iran-backed militias reportedly targeted the Al-Tanf base in October, where US forces are housed, in retaliation for alleged Israeli airstrikes which targeted Iranian-backed forces in Syria last year.
While initial reports indicated that the IRGC statement on Sunday was referring to the alleged Israeli airstrike, Iranian and pro-Iranian media reported that the attack was carried out in response to an alleged Israeli drone attack on an IRGC base in Mahidasht, Iran.
In mid-February, a fire broke out at an IRGC drone base in Mahidasht. The IRGC said at the time that the cause of the fire was under investigation. Satellite imagery taken shortly afterwards by Planet satellite imaging company and shared by OSINT-account Aurora Intel showed a damaged structure at the base.
Sat. Imagery via @planet shows the damage at the Mahidasht Base (#IRGC), Nezaja's 4th UAV Battalion in Kermanshah, #Iran on the 14th Feb. 2022, according to local reports it was caused by a fire, however as always, when incidents at military bases happen, people speculate. pic.twitter.com/4c6VsSC8kS— Aurora Intel (@AuroraIntel) February 18, 2022
According to the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen TV, the attack was a response to an attack by six drones said to have been launched from the site targeted by the Iranian missile strike on Saturday night.
The Lebanese news network additionally claimed that multiple casualties were reported in the strike on Saturday night, despite Iraqi and American denials.
The IRGC warned that any further “evil” by Israel would face a “harsh, decisive and destructive response.”
The Kurdistan Counter-Terrorism Service announced that 12 ballistic missiles were fired from “outside the borders of Iraq and the Kurdistan region, specifically from the east,” according to the Iraqi News Agency (INA). The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that Fateh-110 ballistic missiles were used in the attack.
The Kurdistan Regional Government stated that the attack targeted civilian locations and that the claim that an Israeli base was targeted was being used “only to hide the disgracefulness of such offense.”
“We reiterate that the propaganda of the perpetrators of this attack is far from true,” said the Kurdistan Regional Government, adding that “Iran has repeated these attacks many times, and the silence of the international community in the face of these cowardly attacks will pave the way for their continuation.”
US Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller condemned the attack on Sunday, saying “Elements of the Iranian regime claimed responsibility for this attack and they must be held accountable for this flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty and terrorist attacks on the property of innocent civilians.”
Independent open-source intelligence (OSINT) accounts shared videos reportedly shared by Iranian civilians showing missiles being fired from Iran at the time of the attack, with at least one of the videos being geo-located to a site in Khasabad in the East Azerbaijan province of Iran.
The governor of Erbil, Omed Khoshnaw, stated earlier in the night that multiple missiles fell in the area, saying it was unclear whether the target was the US consulate, under construction, or the airport in the city.
The health minister of Kurdistan stated that there were no injuries or deaths reported in the attack on Saturday night. A US State Department spokesperson called it an "outrageous attack" but said no Americans were hurt and there was no damage to US government facilities in Erbil.
Another video of the explosions that occurred in Erbil. pic.twitter.com/hm1dBotKUr— Mustafa Saadoon (@SaadoonMustafa) March 12, 2022
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated on Sunday that there were "no indications" that the missile attack was directed at the US. "Iran must immediately cease its attacks, respect Iraqi sovereignty, and halt its interference in Iraq’s internal affairs."
Videos shared on social media, reportedly from the scene, showed multiple large explosions in the area.
According to Kurdistan 24 reporter Barzan Sadiq, the Kurdistan 24 studio in the area was damaged in the attack as well.
Shi’ite cleric and Iraqi politician Muqtada al-Sadr responded with outrage to the missile attack, tweeting shortly after the attack “In the name of God, Erbil is under the fire of loss and betrayal, and under pain of starvation, as if the Kurds were not Iraqis. Rather, they are the lung of Iraq and its indivisible part.”
“Erbil will not kneel except for moderation, independence and sovereignty. Peace and love for you, Erbil, and you Kurds, and patience until the achievement of: #National_Majority_Government,” tweeted al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr called the attack a “dangerous precedent” saying “the Iraqi lands, from its north to south and from its east to west, should not be used as an arena for political, security and military conflicts.”
The Shi’ite cleric condemned “all actions targeting neighboring countries from inside Iraq, and any external interference and any shelling on Iraqi lands that are fully sovereign.” Al-Sadr also said that the claims that Israeli sites are located in Iraq should be investigated as soon as possible, but stressed that this “should not be used as an excuse to destabilize the security of Iraq and its people.”
Al-Sadr and Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, agreed on Sunday to establish a fact-finding committee concerning Iran’s claims of an Israeli Mossad center being located in the Erbil area.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi responded to the attack as well, tweeting: “The aggression which targeted the dear city of Erbil and spread fear among its inhabitants is an attack on the security of our people. I discussed these developments with the KRG PM. Our security forces will investigate and stand firm against any threats towards our people.”
Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Masrour Barzani, responded to the attack on Saturday night, writing “Erbil does not bow to cowards. I strongly condemn the terrorist attack on parts of Erbil and call on the brave and patient people of Erbil to be more patient and to follow the instructions of the security agencies. I thank you for your patience.”
The missile attack came as negotiations to return to the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran stalled in Vienna.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted on Friday that the talks in Vienna needed a “pause,” due to “external factors.” Borrell added that a final text is “essentially ready and on the table.”
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh stated on Saturday that there were at least one or two key issues that the US and Iran had not yet reached an agreement on. He added that the two states disagree on how sanctions should be lifted, with Iran wanting more sectors released from sanctions and the US wanting less.
Iranian officials stated that it is unclear when negotiations will resume.