Rocket Attack Hits US Base in Iraqi Kurdistan; Casualties Reported
Five Americans wounded, including one US troop, and one non-U.S. civilian killed in attack claimed by an Iran-linked militia group, as indirect fire hits airport compound and other sites in Erbil.
ERBIL, Iraq — A rocket attack on a U.S. base in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan killed one civilian contractor and injured one U.S. service member, as well as injuring five other contractors.
Four of the injured contractors were American, according to a U.S. defense official. The contractor who was killed was not an American citizen, according to multiple defense officials. At least one local civilian was killed in the attack, which also struck a nearby residential neighborhood, according to local media reports.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack, which took place at roughly 10:00 p.m. local time, shaking the nearby Erbil airport.
A group called Saraya Awliya al-Dam took immediate responsibility, claiming to have fired 24 rockets in the attack. The self-styled group is widely seen as a front for Iran-linked militia in Iraq, in particular Kataib Hezbollah, the group that killed multiple Americans in two attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq in 2019 and 2020.
"We are outraged by today’s rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region," said Secretary of State Tony Blinken, in a statement, pledging to support Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani with "all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible."
“I condemn in the strongest terms tonight’s rocket attacks on Erbil. I urge all Kurdistanis to remain calm,” Barzani said in a tweet. “I’ve instructed security services to start a full investigation and spoke with [Iraqi Prime Minister Kadhimi] on ways to cooperate and identify the outlaws behind this terror attack.”
If the attack is confirmed to be the work of Iran-aligned militia groups in Iraq, it will almost certainly further complicate newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden’s efforts to renegotiate an updated version of the so-called Iran nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump exited in 2018. Biden administration and Iraninan officials have said that they will not restart negotiations until the other side blinks: Iran has said it will not return to the table until Washington eases stiff economic sanctions, and Washington has said it will not move until Tehran comes back into compliance with the original deal.
In the meantime, U.S. military leaders remain deeply concerned about the risk to U.S. forces from Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-aligned militia groups. How much direct command-and-control Tehran exerts over a given operation remains a matter of dispute, but the group is “generally responsive” to Tehran, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander in the region, said in an interview last month.
“They have significant military capabilities,” McKenzie said. “In the last several years, Iran has imported significant combat power into Iraq, and into Syria as well, that could be employed by Kataib Hezbollah.”
There are “a variety of front organizations that are associated with them that they use to try to control or hide the contribution back to Kataib as well, when they choose to strike,” he said.
UPDATED: This article has been updated to include new information.
Kevin Baron contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.