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Iran fires ballistic missiles into Iraqi Kurdistan

Monday’s salvo comes as Washington and its partners face off against Iran and its proxies in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, as Tehran supports Hamas.

Teenager holding the Kurdistan flag in northern Iraq at sunset time on Nowruz 2019. Credit: Felix Friebe/Shutterstock.
Teenager holding the Kurdistan flag in northern Iraq at sunset time on Nowruz 2019. Credit: Felix Friebe/Shutterstock.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed responsibility on Monday for firing ballistic missiles at Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region.

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, which is closely affiliated with the IRGC, reported that the corps—which Washington has designated a terror group since April 15, 2019—issued a statement claiming that the missile attack aimed to eliminate “espionage centers and gatherings of anti-Iranian terrorist groups.”

The Iraqi Kurdistan region maintains autonomous defense forces and government while still technically answering to the federal Iraqi government in Baghdad. The autonomous government has long been friendlier than the Iraqi government towards the United States, with U.S. troops in the region helping the Kurds to push back ISIS.

Israel has previously suggested that it would support Kurdish independence, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly lobbying in 2017 for protection of the Kurdistan Region federal Iraqi forces attacked it following an independence referendum. 

Unconfirmed videos on social media appear to depict large explosions in Erbil, as well as the activation of a U.S. anti-missile system defending the U.S. consulate in the capital.

Local Kurdish media reported that at least two people were killed and five others injured in the attack.

“The United States strongly condemns Iran’s attacks in Erbil today and offers condolences to the families of those who were killed,” stated Matthew Miller, U.S. State Department spokesman. “We oppose Iran’s reckless missile strikes, which undermine Iraq’s stability. We support the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government’s efforts to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people.”

Iran has claimed responsibility for missile attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan in the past. Still, Monday’s salvo comes at a particularly tense moment in the Middle East, as the United States and its partners face off against Iran and its proxy forces in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, while Tehran provides support to Hamas.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Defense said that U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria had been attacked 130 times by Iranian-backed forces since Oct. 17. Those attacks have injured 69 U.S. troops, though none have been injured since Dec. 25.

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