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Iraq Rocket Attacks: 'Group with links to Iran' kills 1, injures 5 Americans in message to Biden administration

At least 14 rockets reportedly hit the areas between the civilian airport in the Kurdish-run area and the nearby base hosting the US troops
UPDATED FEB 22, 2021
On Monday, fourteen rockets reportedly struck near Irbil international airport, where US forces are based in Northern Iraq (Representational Image/Getty Images)
On Monday, fourteen rockets reportedly struck near Irbil international airport, where US forces are based in Northern Iraq (Representational Image/Getty Images)

The Joe Biden administration witnessed the first untoward incident of its time in Iraq on Monday, February 15, when 14 deadly rockets struck at a US-led military base in Kurdish northern Iraq killed one non-American, civilian contractor and injured several others, including five US service members. No one immediately claimed responsibility, but a U.S. defense official said the attack was launched by a Shia militia group.

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the attack, which sparked fears of a new escalation in the region, according to a White House official.

Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesperson for the coalition said on Twitter that the attack targeted coalition forces in Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, but added that details were awaited. According to security officials, at least fourteen rockets hit the areas between the civilian airport in the Kurdish-run zone and the nearby base that hosts the American troops. Reuters reported that several loud explosions were heard and saw a fire breaking out near the airport. The Reuters report cited words of the US coalition in Iraq: "This attack was the most deadly one hitting America-led forces for almost a year in Iraq, where the situation has deteriorated in recent times, with US troops and their Iraqi and Kurdish allies facing Iran-backed militias." 



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The report added that the Kurdish interior ministry issued a statement saying a number of rockets were fired towards Erbil and its outskirts around 9.30 pm local time, resulting in the injury of some people. But no further details were shared. Col. Marotto said the attack was being investigated and stopped short of revealing the nationality of the deceased contractor. 

 Iraqi President Barham Salih (Getty Images)

Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the strike in a statement that was posted online. He called it a “dangerous escalation”. Rocket attacks against America’s presence in Baghdad have been frequent but their frequency went down last year ahead of the presidential inauguration of Biden. While relations between the US and Iran soured during the Donald Trump presidency, it particularly deteriorated following the killing of top Iranian military leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a US drone attack in Baghdad in January 2020.

Reuters reported that a group named Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed responsibility for the attack on the America-led base, saying the ‘American occupation’ in Iraq was being targeted. However, there was no proof produced to back the militia group's claim.

Some outfits, which Iraqi officials believe have links with Iran, have claimed a series of rocket and roadside attacks against the coalition troops and contractors working for the coalition and American installations, including the embassy in the Iraqi capital, in recent times. 

People hold posters showing the portrait of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Major General Qassem Soleimani and chant slogans during a protest outside the US Consulate  in Istanbul, Turkey, on January 5, 2020. (Getty Images)

The last attack before the one on Monday came in March last year when one British and two American personnel were killed. 

On February 11, the Times of Israel reported citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that unidentified drones targeted a weapons shipment going from Iraq to Syria near an “illegal military crossing” which is used by the Iran-aligned militias. It said several news outlets in Iraq put the blame for the strikes on Israel. 

Last month, Israeli airstrikes carried out in the wee hours hit a number of sites near the Iraq border in Syria – an area with a major Iranian military presence that Tehran is believed to use to move weapons throughout the region, according to the Syrian media. While 57 fighters of Iran-backed militias were reportedly killed in the strikes, US intelligence sources told Associated Press at the time that the attacks were carried out with inputs provided by Washington and they targeted warehouses in Syria that were being used as part of a pipeline to store Iranian weapons.