As many as 12 missiles struck Iraq’s northern city of Irbil on Sunday near the U.S. consulate, Iraqi security officials said. A U.S. defense official said missiles had been launched at the city from neighboring Iran.
No injuries were reported. Officials in Iraq and the U.S. gave different accounts of the strike and the damage it caused. A second U.S. official said there was no damage at any U.S. government facility and that there was no indication the target was the consulate building, which is new and currently unoccupied.
Lawk Ghafari, the head of Kurdistan’s foreign media office, said none of the missiles hit the U.S. facility but that areas around the compound had been hit by the missiles.
The Irbil governor in a special statement to VOA said that the attack on Irbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, caused damage to TV Channel K24 and some other places. “The aim of tonight’s attack on Irbil was the consulates, but the attacks did not hit their targets,” Irbil governor Omed Khoshnaw told VOA’s Kurdish service.
The U.S. defense official said it was still not certain exactly how many missiles were fired and exactly where they landed. Neither U.S. official was authorized to discuss the event by name and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The Iraqi security officials said there were no immediate report of casualties from the attack, which they said occurred shortly after midnight and caused material damage in the area. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
One of the Iraqi officials said the ballistic missiles were fired from Iran, without elaborating. The U.S. officials could not confirm the type of missile.
The second U.S. official said the incident was being investigated by the government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government. The U.S. condemned what it called an “outrageous attack against Iraqi sovereignty and display of violence,” the official said in a statement.
The attack came several days after an Israeli strike near Damascus, Syria, killed two members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Iran’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the attack Wednesday and vowed revenge.
On Sunday, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iraqi media acknowledging the attacks in Irbil, without saying where they originated.
Satellite broadcast channel Kurdistan24, which is located near the U.S. consulate, went on air from their studio shortly after the attack, showing shattered glass and debris on their studio floor.
A security statement said Irbil was targeted “with a number of missiles” early Sunday, adding that security forces were investigating the incident and would release more details later.
Attack comes amid Iran talks
The attack came as negotiations in Vienna over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal hit a “pause” over Russian demands about sanctions targeting Moscow over its war on Ukraine.
The top U.S. commander for the Middle East has repeatedly warned about the increasing threats of attacks from Iran and Iranian-back militias on troops and allies in Iraq and Syria.
In an interview with The Associated Press in December, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said that while U.S. forces in Iraq have shifted to a non-combat role, Iran and its proxies still want all American troops to leave the country. As a result, he said, that may trigger more attacks.
The Biden administration decided last July to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by Dec. 31, and U.S. forces gradually moved to an advisory role last year. The troops will still provide air support and other military aid for Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State.
The U.S. presence in Iraq has long been a flash point for Tehran, but tensions spiked after a January 2020 U.S. drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed a top Iranian general. In retaliation, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at al-Asad airbase, where U.S. troops were stationed. More than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in the blasts.
More recently, Iranian proxies are believed responsible for an assassination attempt late last year on Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
And officials have said they believe Iran was behind the October drone attack at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based. No U.S. personnel were killed or injured in the attack.
Al-Kadhimi tweeted: “The aggression which targeted the dear city of Irbil and spread fear amongst its inhabitants is an attack on the security of our people.”
Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdish-controlled region, condemned the attack. In a Facebook post, he said Irbil “will not bow to the cowards who carried out the terrorist attack.”