Iraqi authorities arrested perpetrators of Erbil airport attacks
Iraqi authorities on Thursday arrested the suspected perpetrators behind an attack near a US military base close to the northern city of Erbil. The attack on Wednesday caused no casualties among American troops.
At least four rockets were launched late on Wednesday by militants belonging to the pro-Iranian Hashed Al Shaabi group targeting the Erbil international airport, but failed to reach their target. The US base is located at the airport.
“The perpetrators of the attack on Erbil Airport were arrested yesterday. We will reveal their identities after the investigation is completed,” a statement by Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said.
“We are ready to use force against anyone who targets diplomatic missions,” it said, adding that Iraqi and Kurdish security forces are coordinating closely.
According to officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the attack was conducted to undermine the federal government’s authority.
“It is an attempt to silence some outlawed groups as well damaging the stability and security of the Kurdistan Region,” Hiwa Afandi, the head of the KRG’s Department of Information Technology, told The National.
The attacks aimed to tell the coalition” that they can be a threat even in Erbil,” Mr Afandi said.
The KRG’s anti-terrorism department said the rockets were launched from Sheikh Amir village in Nineveh province and added that two of the six did not explode.
Videos on social media showed large fires in the area but no casualties.
“This area is controlled by Hashed Al Shaabi’s 30th Brigade,” the government said.
“Our special teams are seriously investigating in order to obtain more information.”
US coalition spokesman Wayne Marotto tweeted that the base and American troops were not harmed.
The KRG is “responsible for providing security to the northern region as it hosts thousands of individuals from Iran, Turkey, Syria who seek safety,” a government official told The National.
“We view it as an attack on our interests and it will not go unanswered. We will not allow the region to become a proxy war and conflict,” he said.
The Kurdish official said the attacks are similar to the ones that have targeted Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.
“This means that it’s very likely the same group, or one sponsored by the same source, conducted the attack,” he said.
It comes amid heightened tension between Tehran and Washington in Iraq.
The Trump administration has told the Iraqi government that it is prepared to close its embassy in Iraq unless urgent action is taken to halt attacks on the mission and American soldiers.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to close the embassy during a call a week ago to President Barham Salih.
The sources said reports that diplomats may relocate to the relative safety of Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region were untrue and a closure would mean embassy staff leaving Iraq.
The reports seem even less likely after the attack on Erbil.
Washington blames Iran-backed militias for firing rockets at its embassy on a near-weekly basis for months, and for shelling Iraqi bases housing international troops, including many of the 5,000 US soldiers.
A rocket landed near Baghdad airport on Monday night killing three civilians and wounding two, Iraqi security officials said.
Source: The National