Iraq rocket attack hits USA forces, killing contractor

Brunilde Fioravanti
Febbraio 16, 2021

Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the US-led coalition in Iraq, said, "There was one civilian contractor killed, five civilian contractors injured and one U.S. service member injured" in the Monday night "indirect fire".

Three rockets fell on Monday near the global airport of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, al-Sumaria broadcaster reported.

At least two civilians were also wounded and the rockets damaged cars and other property, security officials said, without providing more details.

Around a dozen such groups have cropped up in the past year claiming rocket attacks, but USA and Iraqi security officials have told AFP they believe them to be front groups for prominent pro-Iran factions including Kataeb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. Tensions soared after a Washington-directed drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and powerful Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis previous year.

The frequency of attacks diminished late a year ago ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's inauguration, though now Iran is pressing America to return to Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal.

Biden's administration is weighing a return to the Iran nuclear deal, which his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, that aimed to curb Iran's nuclear programme.

Tensions between Iran and the US have played out on Iraqi soil.

Tension between the United States and Iran across the Middle East have become more overt in the last few years, ending most recently in a targeted drone strike by USA forces that killed Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

But most rocket attacks had concentrated on the coalition and USA diplomatic personnel based in Baghdad.

A coalition spokesman said on Twitter the attack hit coalition forces in the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil, and that more details would follow.

"Three missiles fell in the area of Erbil global airport, security officials were dispersed in the area", the broadcaster said, citing a source in the Iraqi security services.

At around 9:30 pm (1830 GMT), an AFP reporter heard several loud explosions in the northwestern outskirts of Arbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region.

The military side of Irbil's airport is one of three remaining bases with a significant number of United States troops. A third US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USA service member's injury was a concussion.

A group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed responsibility for the attack on the US-led base, saying it targeted the "American occupation" in Iraq. It provided no evidence for its claim.

"We are outraged by today's rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region", he said in a statement Monday evening, adding that in speaking with the Kurdish president, he had pledged United States support "for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible".

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

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