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Ballistic missiles fired at Iraq’s Arbil ‘from east’

A dozen ballistic missiles targeted Iraq's northern city of Arbil, including US facilities, causing damage but no major casualties early on Sunday, security forces in the autonomous Kurdistan region said.

A dozen ballistic missiles targeted Iraq’s northern city of Arbil, including US facilities, causing damage but no major casualties early on Sunday, security forces in the autonomous Kurdistan region said.

Local authorities said the missiles came from beyond the eastern border, suggesting that the source of the fire was Iran — a country that wields considerable political and economic influence over its neighbour.

“Twelve ballistic missiles” on Sunday targeted the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Arbil, and the US consulate there, Kurdish security forces said.

“The missiles were fired outside the borders of Iraq and Kurdistan, (coming) more precisely from the east,” the Kurdistan counter-terrorism unit said in a statement.

Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, is home to a dwindling number of US troops who led a coalition fighting the Islamic State jihadist group.

Washington has routinely blamed rocket and drone attacks against its interests in Iraq on pro-Iran groups who demand the departure of the remaining troops.

But cross-border missile fire is rare.

Sunday’s attack on Arbil comes nearly a week after two officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were killed in Syria in a strike attributed to key US ally Israel.

The Revolutionary Guards, the Islamic republic’s ideological army, vowed revenge on Israel for that attack.

The interior ministry in Arbil said a “new building” housing the US consulate, which is located in a residential suburb of the city, was hit in Sunday’s missile attack.

It “caused material damages in buildings and houses, but no casualties, except one slightly injured civilian,” a ministry statement said.

Regional tensions
An AFP correspondent in Arbil heard three explosions before dawn.

Washington said there was “no damage or casualties at any US government facility”.

“We condemn this outrageous attack and display of violence,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Local television channel Kurdistan24, whose studios are not far from the US consulate, posted images on social networks of its damaged offices, with collapsed sections of false ceiling and broken glass.

“We condemn this terrorist attack launched against several sectors of Arbil,” Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, said in a statement.

“We call on the inhabitants to remain calm”.

The health ministry in Arbil said there were no casualties.

Iraq saw a surge in rocket and armed-drone attacks at the beginning of the year as Iran and its allies commemorated the second anniversary of the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, killed by American drone fire in Iraq in January 2020.

In late January, six rockets were fired at Baghdad International Airport, causing no casualties.

Iran itself responded to the January 2020 killing of Soleimani by firing missiles at military bases in Iraq housing US forces.

The attack against Arbil and US interests comes at a delicate time in negotiations between Iran and world powers on restoring a 2015 nuclear deal that eased sanctions on Tehran in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme.

The US unilaterally pulled out of that deal under then-president Donald Trump in 2018 and proceeded to slap swingeing new sanctions on Tehran, which in turn stepped back from many of its nuclear commitments.

The negotiations in Vienna have involved Iran and the remaining parties Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany directly, and the US indirectly.

Negotiators had repeatedly said lately they were close to a deal, but Western sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine — and Moscow’s reaction to that — have complicated the Iran dialogue.