Authorities in Baghdad and Erbil announced the start of a joint investigation into Monday night’s attack on the U.S. forces base at the international airport in the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish Autonomous Region (KRG). One foreign worker at the base was killed and eight others were wounded after three rockets struck inside the compound, a spokesman for the international coalition said, in an operation that caused “outrage” to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Eleven other shells landed in areas near the airport in an offensive claimed by an unknown group that presented itself as Saraya Awliya al-Dam (Guardians of the Blood Brigades) and said it was ready to end “the U.S. occupation.” The claim by this militia did not convince the Kurdish authorities, who see what happened as one more chapter in the Iranian and U.S. arm wrestling on Iraqi soil. Jafar Iminki, a member of the political leadership of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), declared to Rudaw channel that “the attack in Erbil is part of the conflict between the United States and Iran. It is a message to the Americans, who have a big base here and the Americans, of course, have picked it up.”
Tehran authorities dissociated themselves from what happened and condemned “any attempt to link the attacks with Iran,” according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, who assured that for his country “stability and security in Iraq is key.”
The Kurdish region of Iraq has remained the safest place in the country since the 2003 U.S. invasion that brought down Saddam Hussein. Such attacks are very rare in Erbil, although in September there was also a multiple rocket launch against the same base. On that occasion no one was killed, but it was suggested that militias close to Iran, a network of Shiite paramilitary groups that were key in the defeat of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) and which operate as a kind of state within the state, may have been involved. This attack comes barely three weeks before the Pope’s visit, who has Erbil among the places to visit due to the strong Christian presence in neighborhoods such as Ankawa, next to the airport.
Erdogan charges against the West
Very close to Erbil, in the province of Duhok, also in the KRG, thirteen Turkish citizens who were being held by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militia were killed in a rescue operation on Sunday. Ankara claims they were civilians, a claim denied by the militiamen, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced that “we have not been able to hear anyone except some faint voices. Hey, West, where are you?”. A reaction to Washington’s lukewarm response to the official version offered by the Turks, which led the president to accuse Blinken of “supporting the PKK”.
Erdogan announced new military operations against Kurdish militiamen in northern Iraq and Syria, where the Syrian arm of the PKK fights hand in hand with U.S. troops and was a key player in the campaign against the caliphate.