Rockets land in Erbil as US threatens embassy pullout

Iraqi Kurdistan’s counterterrorism service said the rockets were fired by paramilitary groups in Ninevah province in northern Iraq.

al-monitor A Popular Mobilization Units militia fires rockets from the Iraqi city of Qaim toward Islamic State positions near Deir ez-Zor, Syria, on Nov. 11, 2018. Now that the Islamic State no longer holds territory, some PMU militias have been firing rockets toward US positions and toward the US Embassy in Baghdad. Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 30, 2020

The same day Iraq's prime minister pledged to protect foreign missions in the country, paramilitary groups fired rockets in the direction of US troops in Erbil, the counterterrorism service in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq said tonight. 

Six rockets were launched from the borders of Sheikh Amir village in Ninevah province by the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), "who were targeting coalition forces at Erbil International Airport,” the counterterrorism service said, adding that the rockets were launched from a modified pickup truck. Two of the six rockets did not explode.

The Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reported the rockets landed in a field near Gazna, near a local headquarters of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI). 

The launch site was near Bartella, between the villages of Sheikh Amir and Tarjalah, an area west of Erbil in which the PMU's 30th Brigade has a presence, according to a statement from the Interior Ministry of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The 30th Brigade formally consists of Ninevah-based PMU forces, but has ties to the Iran-backed Badr Organization. Iran considers the KDPI a terrorist organization. 

The indirect fire did not harm coalition forces, said a spokesman for the US-led coalition, US Army Col. Wayne Marotto.

"There was no damage or casualties. Incident is under investigation,” he tweeted

The United States has roughly 5,000 military personnel stationed in the country, many based at the Erbil airport, to advise and assist local security forces fighting the remnants of the Islamic State. To better safeguard troops from Iran and its Iraqi proxies, the United States deployed a Patriot missile defense battery to the Erbil base in April. 

Tensions between Iran and the United States have remained high since the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in January at the Baghdad airport. Iran responded with a ballistic missile attack on the Ain al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq that caused more than 100 US troops to suffer traumatic brain injury. Most of the cases were considered to be mild.

The most recent rocket attack comes as Washington mulls pulling its diplomatic staff from the country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly told Iraqi officials that the United States will shutter its heavily fortified embassy in Baghdad unless Iraq does more to prevent Iran-backed militias from attacking US interests in the country. 

On Monday, rockets that landed near Baghdad’s airport killed five civilians in an attack the US State Department said demonstrated why “the actions of lawless Iran-backed militias remains the single biggest deterrent to stability in Iraq.” 

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met today with two dozen top diplomats and pledged to protect their diplomatic missions from future attacks.  “Iraq is keen on enforcing the rule of law, the state's monopoly on having weapons, protecting foreign missions and diplomatic buildings," Kadhimi told a meeting of ambassadors and charges d'affaires, his office said. 

On Twitter, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani said he had spoken with Kadhimi about holding the perpetrators accountable for today’s rocket attack. 

“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,” he said.

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