Rocket strike ‘by group with links to Iran’ injures several Americans and kills a foreign contractor

A rocket strike by a group believed to have links to Iran has injured several Americans and killed a foreign contractor at a coalition base in Iraq.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed to ‘hold accountable those responsible’ as he said that US contractors had been wounded, without providing further details. 

At least three rockets were fired at Erbil International Airport in the north of the war-ravaged country, where foreign troops are based as part of the international alliance fighting ISIS.   

The attack was claimed by a shadowy group calling itself ‘Guardians of Blood,’ which US forces believe is one of many which have sprung up recently in Iraq as fronts for pro-Iranian factions.  

It is the first time in almost two months that Western forces have been targeted in Iraq following a string of incidents.

Donald Trump had threatened that the killing of an American national in such a rocket attack would prompt a mass bombing campaign in Iraq. 

Video shows red hot shrapnel and smoke filling the air after a rocket landed in the middle of a street in Erbil last night. As well as the US contractors wounded and the foreign contractor killed, five Iraqi civilians died in the attack

Video shows red hot shrapnel and smoke filling the air after a rocket landed in the middle of a street in Erbil last night. As well as the US contractors wounded and the foreign contractor killed, five Iraqi civilians died in the attack

Video shows red hot shrapnel and smoke filling the air after a rocket landed in the middle of a street in Erbil last night. As well as the US contractors wounded and the foreign contractor killed, five Iraqi civilians died in the attack

At least three rockets were fired at Erbil International Airport in the north of the war-ravaged country, where foreign troops are based as part of the international alliance fighting ISIS

At least three rockets were fired at Erbil International Airport in the north of the war-ravaged country, where foreign troops are based as part of the international alliance fighting ISIS

At least three rockets were fired at Erbil International Airport in the north of the war-ravaged country, where foreign troops are based as part of the international alliance fighting ISIS

A worker clears the shattered glass on Tuesday outside a damaged shop following a rocket attack the previous night in Erbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region

A worker clears the shattered glass on Tuesday outside a damaged shop following a rocket attack the previous night in Erbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region

A worker clears the shattered glass on Tuesday outside a damaged shop following a rocket attack the previous night in Erbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region

Pro-Iran attacks against the US in Iraq

Western military and diplomatic sites have been targeted by dozens of rockets and roadside bombs since late 2019, with both foreign and Iraqi personnel killed.

In December 2019, a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a base in Kirkuk province, prompting the US to respond with air strikes against Kataeb Hezbollah.

Furious pro-Iranian militia men stormed the US embassy in Baghdad following the strikes on Kataeb Hezbollah.

Kataeb Hezbollah is an Iran-sponsored Shia Muslim faction which is part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

The PMF was assembled by Iraq to help combat Islamic State but since defeating the radicals, the PMF has been unwilling to bend to the will of the government in Baghdad.

Just days after the storming of the US embassy in Baghdad, top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a rocket strike on January 3.

His motorcade was obliterated by a US Reaper drone after he arrived from either Syria or Iraq.

Several PMF commanders were also killed in the strike.

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s foreign policy and Washington said his travel throughout the Middle East, especially into Iraq and Syria, was inextricably linked to Tehran’s anti-American designs.

In March 2020, another rocket attack killed two Americans – a soldier and a contractor – and a British soldier.

In October, the US threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad unless the attacks stopped.

The Iraqi government facilitated an indefinite truce with hardline groups and the fire had come to a near halt.  

But there have been violations, the most recent of which had been a spray of rockets targeting the US embassy on December 20.

Erbil has been targeted very rarely, although Iranian forces fired missiles at the same airport in January 2020, a few days after Washington assassinated key general Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad airport. 

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Coalition spokesman Colonel Wayne Marotto confirmed that the dead contractor was not Iraqi, but could not give immediate details on the victim’s nationality.

Since Iraq declared victory against IS in late 2017, the coalition has been reduced to under 3,500 troops in total, 2,500 of them Americans.

Most are concentrated at the military complex at the Erbil airport, a coalition source said.

‘Awliyaa al-Dam’ or ‘Guardians of Blood’ are one of a number of around a dozen groups which have cropped up in the last year claiming rocket atatcks.

But US and Iraqi security officials believe them to be front groups for prominent pro-Iran factions including Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. 

Two other rockets hit residential neighbourhoods on Erbil’s outskirts.

Delovan Jalal, the head of Erbil’s health directorate, said at least five civilians were wounded and one was in critical condition.

The Kurdistan region’s interior ministry confirmed ‘several rockets’ had hit the city and said security agencies had launched a ‘detailed investigation’, urging civilians to stay home until further notice.

Following the attack, security forces deployed around the airport and helicopters could be heard on the city’s edges. 

Iraqi President Barham Saleh tweeted that the attack marked a ‘dangerous escalation and a criminal terrorist act’. 

Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the autonomous Kurdish region, condemned the attack ‘in the strongest terms’.

Two intelligence sources confirmed that the attack was carried out from within the autonomous Kurdish region.

Western military and diplomatic sites have been targeted by dozens of rockets and roadside bombs since late 2019, with both foreign and Iraqi personnel killed.

In December 2019, a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack on a base in Kirkuk province, prompting the US to respond with air strikes against Kataeb Hezbollah.

In March 2020, another rocket attack killed two Americans – a soldier and a contractor – and a British soldier.

In October, the US threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad unless the attacks stopped.

The Iraqi government facilitated an indefinite truce with hardline groups and the fire had come to a near halt.

But there have been violations, the most recent of which had been a spray of rockets targeting the US embassy on December 20.

Erbil has been targeted very rarely, although Iranian forces fired missiles at the same airport in January 2020, a few days after Washington assassinated key general Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad airport.

Kurdish security sources said at least three rockets landed near Erbil International Airport in the autonomous region late at night

Kurdish security sources said at least three rockets landed near Erbil International Airport in the autonomous region late at night

Kurdish security sources said at least three rockets landed near Erbil International Airport in the autonomous region late at night

People inspect the area where one of the fired rockets landed on Monday night

People inspect the area where one of the fired rockets landed on Monday night

People inspect the area where one of the fired rockets landed on Monday night

It was the most deadly attack to hit U.S.-led forces for almost a year in Iraq, where tensions have escalated between U.S. forces, their Iraqi and Kurdish allies on one side and Iran-aligned militias on the other

It was the most deadly attack to hit U.S.-led forces for almost a year in Iraq, where tensions have escalated between U.S. forces, their Iraqi and Kurdish allies on one side and Iran-aligned militias on the other

It was the most deadly attack to hit U.S.-led forces for almost a year in Iraq, where tensions have escalated between U.S. forces, their Iraqi and Kurdish allies on one side and Iran-aligned militias on the other

A rocket attack at a U.S.-led military base in Kurdish northern Iraq on Monday killed a civilian contractor

A rocket attack at a U.S.-led military base in Kurdish northern Iraq on Monday killed a civilian contractor

A rocket attack at a U.S.-led military base in Kurdish northern Iraq on Monday killed a civilian contractor

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