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Iraq: US forces hit in rocket attack that kills contractor

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was outraged by the deadly raid
A man lies in a hospital bed after being injured during Monday's rocket attack on US-led forces at Erbil international airport (Reuters)
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Erbil, Iraq

A rocket attack in northern Iraq killed a contractor and wounded several others, including a US service member, on Monday, in the deadliest attack against a US target in the country in over almost a year. 

The rockets hit inside and near a military airbase occupied by the US-led coalition at Erbil international airport.

Two US officials said the contractor who was killed was not American. The coalition said five other contractors were hurt, without elaborating.

A spokesperson from the Kurdish Regional Government's health ministry said that one of the injured was in a critical condition. 

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The Erbil security directorate was not available for comment at the time of writing, following a request by Middle East Eye. 

A spokesperson from the Iraqi coalition said at least 14 rockets had struck three areas on Monday evening.

He added that the KRG's interior ministry would conduct an investigation in partnership with coalition forces.  

The attack, claimed by a little-known group that some Iraqi officials say has links with Iran, raises tension in the Middle East while Washington and Tehran explore a potential return to the Iran nuclear deal.

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 of being behind the attack.

'Big security breach'

A KRG official from the Peshmerga, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the attack to MEE as a "big security breach and major failure for all the main Kurdish security agencies".

"How the rockets entered the region remains unclear, but it is possible that personnel within the Kurdistan region's security and military force may have collaborated with the perpetrators," the official said. 

"The range of the rockets fired were eight kilometres and the PMF [Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces] often use these missiles." 

The official added: "Following this catastrophe, officials from the main intelligence agencies in Erbil should be dismissed. The region's financial crisis and internal conflicts have affected the Peshmerga's ability to fulfil its role on the border." 

'Following this catastrophe, officials from the main intelligence agencies in Erbil should be dismissed'

- Peshmerga offical

The PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi, rejected claims that its related militias carried out the attack.

Sayed Ali Hosseini, head of relations for the PMF's Northern Front, dismissed the allegations to MEE, and said its forces were not in the area from which the attack was believed to have been launched.

"[The] PMF is not positioned in the area from which the rockets have been launched," Hosseini said. "We dismiss all those accusations that accuse us of being behind the attacks. We will file lawsuits against anyone who accuses us of carrying out the attacks without proof."

Hosseini added that he had never heard of the Awliya al-Dam militia, and questioned whether it carried out the attack. 

Tehran on Tuesday also denied that it had any links with the group responsible for the attack, and said it opposed any acts that harmed Iraq's security.

"Iran considers Iraq's stability and security as a key issue for the region … and rejects any action that disturbs the peace and order in that country," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told state media.  

Armed groups aligned with Iran in Iraq and Yemen have launched attacks against the United States and its Arab allies in recent weeks, including a drone attack on a Saudi airport and rockets against the US embassy in Baghdad.

Most of the incidents have caused no casualties, but have kept up the pressure on US troops and their allies in the region in the early days of Joe Biden’s presidency.

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.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said late Monday the United States was “outraged” by the attack.

In a statement, Blinken said he had reached out to the KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani “to discuss the incident and to pledge our support for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible”.

Reuters contributed to this report