A rocket attack has targeted a base hosting US-led coalition forces inside Erbil International Airport in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region, causing no damage or casualties.
The Iraqi military said in a statement that “a number of rockets” were launched on Erbil from the back of a vehicle in the northern Nineveh Province on Wednesday.
It also blamed a “terrorist group” for the attack, saying that the local commander responsible for securing the launch area had been suspended pending an investigation.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdistan’s security service said four rockets landed at the edge of the airport compound, two of which did not explode.
It further claimed that anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha’abi were behind the incident.
Hashd al-Sha’abi says ‘has nothing to do with the attack’
Iraqi Major General Sami Bakdash, media official for Hashd al-Sha’abi’s 30th Brigade, however, rejected the accusations, saying the Iraqi resistance group has nothing to do with the Erbil attack.
He said Hashd al-Sha’abi was surprised by hasty statements about the attack, which is still under investigation.
“The area from which the rockets were launched is shared between us and the Iraqi army, and it is a border area. Even the [Kurdish] Peshmerga forces are close to it. It is an open agricultural zone,” he said.
“Since the rockets were fired, we started a search operation for those behind the launches. However, we have not achieved anything so far.”
Bekdash also stressed that Hashd al-Sha’abi “did not and will not commit such actions” and will continue its search for the attackers.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) condemned the attack and called on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to hold those responsible accountable.
“I strongly condemn tonight’s rocket attack in Erbil. The KRG will not tolerate any attempt to undermine Kurdistan’s stability and our response will be robust,” tweeted Kurdish Premier Masrour Barzani.
US Army Colonel Wayne Marotto, spokesman for the US-led coalition, confirmed that initial reports indicated that indirect fire did not land on coalition forces in Erbil.
The Erbil attack came hours after Kadhimi pledged to improve protection of foreign missions in Iraq.
“Those who carry out attacks on foreign missions are seeking to destabilize Iraq and sabotage its regional and international relations,” he told 25 foreign emissaries, including the US ambassador, on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, the United States threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad if the Iraqi government did not move to stop attacks on American compounds.
Iraqi24, a Baghdad news site, reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned Iraqi President Barham Salih that Washington was ready to shut its embassy in Baghdad and take action against anti-terror resistance groups, which America blames for attacks on its diplomatic missions and military bases.
Anti-US sentiment has been running high in Iraq following Washington’s January 3 assassination of top Iranian anti-terror commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and senior Hashd al-Sha’abi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in addition to several other comrades, outside the Baghdad airport.
Just two days later, Iraqi lawmakers unanimously passed a bill mandating the expulsion of all foreign troops from the country.
Iraqi resistance groups have vowed to avenge the assassinations, but denied any role in the growing rocket attacks on foreign missions.
Washington, however, has threatened sanctions should US troops be expelled from Iraq instead of ending the occupation of the Arab country.