A rocket attack in Iraq on Monday evening appeared to target both busy streets and a base where US soldiers are located near the Erbil International Airport.
Over the last two years, dozens of rocket attacks have targeted areas where US soldiers were located on facilities on bases in Iraq. These have been blamed on Kataib Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militia groups.
The US-led coalition said that “initial reports that Indirect Fire landed on coalition Forces in Erbil tonight. There was one civilian contractor killed, five civilian contractors injured and one US service member injured. More information to follow.”
These would be the first US casualties since March 2020. The killing of a US contractor at K-1 near Kirkuk in December 2019 led to rising tensions with Iran, US airstrikes, an attack on the US Embassy and the US killing IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani.
Disputed reports said that the rocket fire may have come from Nineveh plains, which is controlled by pro-Iranian militias who serve under the command of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are part of the government’s security forces. Other sources said the rockets came from near Kirkuk region, another area where pro-Iranian groups have had a footprint since pushing Kurdish peshmerga out in October 2017.
At around 9:30 in the evening, locals reported several large explosions. Smoke was seen. Ambulances and sirens were heard. The people that spoke to The Jerusalem Post said that they heard all this from an area called Ainkawa, which is near the airport. US forces are known to use an area of Erbil International Airport.
A past attack with grad rockets on September 30, 2020, came near to this area. The attack on February 15 appears more extensive in the pattern of fire. This could point to rockets aimed from a different location. The distance from areas near Kirkuk, such as Altun Kopru is around 47 km. to Erbil. There have been tensions in this area between Peshmerga and the PMF, as well as ISIS cells that hold out in areas near Mount Qara Chokh.
There are many tensions in this region. In recent days, Turkey launched an attack on Kurdistan Workers Party fighters in the mountains. There are also rumors that PMF brigades have moved to Sinjar to stop a rumored Turkish invasion.
The pro-Iranian PMF forces are also against the US presence in Iraq. In recent months, various pro-Iranian militia groups have targeted convoys that supply US forces, leading to change in logistics supply.
Video of the rockets striking civilian areas would point more likely to ISIS or pro-Iranian militias. Some suggested the attacks were five mortar rounds and others pointed to a 122 mm. rocket.
According to a Rudaw report, reporter Fazel Hawramy said that one American service member was wounded. Rockets were fired from Hamdaniyeh near Mosul, he noted. That is some 60 km. away to the west. Experts looked at blast radius and impact for the rockets.
One rocket fell in an area called Naz City and another fell some 2 km. south of the airport. Peshmerga members, who are the security forces of the autonomous region, were quoted saying “terrorists” carried out the attacks. Security forces of the Kurdistan government were investigating. Many Kurds are tired of their peaceful and stable area being used by proxy groups or being abused by larger countries and groups with agendas.
The region already saw Kirkuk and Sinjar taken from it in October 2017 after an independence referendum. It has suffered economic costs due to Baghdad not transferring its share of the budget.
The interior ministry of the Kurdistan region says there are injuries, according to Lawk Ghafuri, a foreign media relations official.
By 11:30 p.m., reports in Iraq said that fighter jets and helicopters could be heard, likely from the US-led coalition. Several injured were reported, including a Syrian. One civilian may have been killed. The Kurdistan region has vowed to find those responsible.
A statement from the Ministry of Interior of the Kurdistan Regional Government said that “at 9:30 tonight, several rockets were fired at and around the city of Erbil and landed in several places.
“As a result, several people were injured, according to preliminary information. Following the incident, a detailed investigation has been launched by security agencies. We urge the beloved citizens of Erbil to stay away from these places & stay in their houses until we publish more information later.”
According to one witness of the rockets, one fell near Gulan Street in Erbil. The sound was very loud. Another source in Ainkawa said she heard three loud explosions. According to Mahmoud Shikh Ibrahim, a local journalist and expert, rockets fell near not only near Naz City, an area in Erbil, but out by the sheep market in Alwa on the way to Mosul and in an area in the city called Waziran near 40 meter road, which is called Gulan Street.
It was not far from Diwan on 40 meter, heading northeast toward the International Trade Center. They fell 300 meters from each other. The rockets hit on the north and south sides of the same large boulevard. The one that fell in Naz is believed to have struck near the Chinese consulate.
Sources allege the rockets were fired by pro-Iranian militias linked to Kataib Hezbollah and related groups from an area in Kirkuk Governorate not far from Dibs. This area is across a river that divides the Kurdistan region from the disputed Kirkuk region.