Iran’s militias in Iraq claim 'Zionist presence' in Erbil

Iran fired large missiles that landed near a new US consulate compound and damaged a house, with Iranian regime media reporting that the Islamic Republic was also targeting “Zionist” facilities.

 View of a damaged building in the aftermath of missile attacks in Erbil, Iraq March 13, 2022 (photo credit: AZAD LASHKARI/REUTERS)
View of a damaged building in the aftermath of missile attacks in Erbil, Iraq March 13, 2022
(photo credit: AZAD LASHKARI/REUTERS)

Iranian-backed groups in Iraq continue to claim there is a “Zionist presence” in the autonomous Kurdistan Region. This is not a new talking point, but they have intensified it in recent days in the wake of a major Iranian missile attack on Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq.

Iran fired large missiles that landed near a new US Consulate compound and damaged a house, with Iranian regime media reporting that Iran was also targeting “Zionist” facilities. This claim also has been repeated elsewhere.

While there are many reasons that the Islamic Republic might like to assert that it is attacking “Zionists” in Iraq, what is interesting is that Iran is pushing its militia allies in Iraq to follow this narrative.

“Some Arab governments are made by the United States and the Zionist regime,” Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted al-Nujaba in Iraq as saying. “The Zionist presence in Erbil is public and clear,” the paramilitary group said.

“The Nujaba movement has real evidence of an Israeli presence in Erbil… Iran’s response to the Zionist atrocities is normal,” the group said. It also claimed that Kurds “oppose any Zionist presence in Erbil.”

 Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi inspects the site of a damaged building a day after a missile attack, in Erbil (credit: IRAQI PRIME MINISTER MEDIA OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi inspects the site of a damaged building a day after a missile attack, in Erbil (credit: IRAQI PRIME MINISTER MEDIA OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

But the Iranian group, likely reflecting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps narrative, also said the current Iraqi governing authorities “cannot prevent Kurdistan from hosting Zionist positions.”

What this means is that Iran and its militias, such as Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq, are giving themselves impunity to attack the Kurdish Region under the guise of opposing Israel. The US has forces in the Kurdistan Region, which were repositioned after Iran attacked US forces in 2019 and 2020 at other Iraqi facilities. They are in Iraq as part of the global coalition against ISIS. But they are also targeted by Iran.

The “resistance” in Iraq, which is made up of half a dozen militias linked to the Fatah coalition in Iraq’s parliament and to Iran’s IRGC, is now congratulating Tehran on its attacks. This comes as Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi visited the Kurdistan Region to see the damage and as the US condemned the attack.

The Iraqi groups linked to Iran want the “Iraqi government to expel the Zionists from Iraq,” an Iranian media report said, adding that “Iraqi oil is sold to the Zionist regime through the Kurdistan Region.”

Iran appears to be doubling down on early claims that it targeted “two advanced Israeli Mossad training centers in Erbil.” At noon on Sunday, the IRGC issued a statement pointing to the “strategic target of the Zionist conspiracy.”

This is not the first time Iran has claimed it targeted “Zionists” in Iraq; it made the same claim last year. The new statements merely reinforce Iran’s narrative about its actions in its Islamic neighbor.

Tehran seeks to use the presence of US forces as an excuse to continue attacks and treat Iraq as if it is a fair playing field for Iranian presence and attacks. This has implications because Iran transports missiles to Syria via Iraq and bases drones in Iraq that can threaten Israel. Iran has also flown drones over Iraq to threaten Israel in the past.